Wednesday 23 October 2019

New Brexit deal agreed by Theresa May and EU 'does not undermine' original agreement - Varadkar

  • Taoiseach says that the text provides additional clarity sought by some
  • He said Brexit has been a "dark cloud over us"
  • "I hope and trust the withdrawal agreement will now be endorsed by the UK"
Leo Varadkar Photo: Tony Gavin
Leo Varadkar Photo: Tony Gavin
Leo Varadkar Photo: Tony Gavin
Mr Varadkar and Mrs May Photo: Maxwells
Leo Varadkar Photo: Tom Honan/PA

Kevin Doyle and Conor Feehan

ANY “doubts or fears” that politicians in the UK had about being trapped indefinitely in the Irish backstop “can now be put to bed”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

In a measured response to the latest version of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, the Taoiseach urged MPs to study it carefully and support it in the House of Commons tonight.

He said Ireland and the EU were always prepared to offer “assurances of our good faith and intentions”.

Mr Varadkar described the new 'package' of measures as “complimentary to the Withdrawal Agreement” and said that the new deal does "not undermine" the original agreement.

But in comments that will attract the most attention from those who oppose Mrs May’s deal, he emphasised that the backstop must still stay in place “unless and until” alternative ways of avoiding a hard border are found.

“It [the new deal] does not call into question that the backstop will apply unless and until an alternative is agreed,” he said, adding that the EU would work in a “timely way” to find those alternatives.

Busy day: Theresa May waits to give a reading at a Westminster Abbey service in London yesterday before she travelled out to Strasbourg in France. Photo: PA
Busy day: Theresa May waits to give a reading at a Westminster Abbey service in London yesterday before she travelled out to Strasbourg in France. Photo: PA

“Brexit has been a dark cloud over us for many months. We now need to see the WA ratified by Westminster and the European Parliament without further delay,” he said.

Cabinet ministers met until midnight last night but Mr Varadkar decided to wait until this morning to make a statement about the developments. The Irish Government now intends to say little or nothing further about the situation until the House of Commons votes tonight.

Mr Varadkar said he hoped the assurances given to Mrs May in Strasbourg last would be “basis on which we can move forward again”.

She returned to the UK with a warning that the EU will not move further and, if the deal does not pass muster, Brexit may not happen at all.

Mr Varadkar and Mrs May Photo: Maxwells
Mr Varadkar and Mrs May Photo: Maxwells

The package includes:

-A legally binding statement that makes clear neither side will negotiate after Brexit with the aim of “indefinitely” keeping the backstop

- An extended political declaration on the future ties

- And a document written by the UK side containing fresh legal advice on why the UK will not be ‘trapped’ in the backstop

The legally binding statement sets out that the backstop is intended to be temporary.

It commits the EU to using “its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop”. A date of December 31, 2020 is prescribed.

Attention now turns back to Westminster where the deal will be put to a vote around 7pm tonight.

Mr Varadkar said: “I hope and trust the Withdrawal Agreement will be endorsed by the House of Commons.”

The DUP, who prop up Mrs May’s government, continues to study the new documents. Their next move is seen as crucial and will hold significant sway over hardline Brexiteers in the Conservative Party.

MPs are also eagerly awaiting the views of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox who previously warned that the UK could be trapped in the backstop indefinitely.

This morning, he denied speculation that he was ordered to validate Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal assurances against his will.

British broadcaster Jon Snow tweated he had heard that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox did not validate May's tweaked deal and had been told to find a way to validate it.

Cox, who is due to give a legal opinion on May's assurances, replied with one word on Twitter: "Bollocks".


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