TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has defended his decision to signal Ireland may agree a “review clause” on the Irish border backstop and insisted this did not mean weakening his Brexit negotiating position.
Mr Varadkar said agreeing to talk about a review of the North’s special trading status would never, ever, involve allowing an expiry date for the arrangement. Neither would it involve giving the UK the power to back out of the deal off its own bat.
The Taoiseach was speaking during heated Dáil exchanges in which he rejected claims by Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, that he may be “losing his nerve” and “blinking” at a crucial final phase in the marathon Brexit talks.
Desperate efforts to get a final deal across the line led to UK Prime Minister Theresa May phoning the Taoiseach yesterday seeking an agreement on a mechanism which would allow it to exit the backstop – the guarantee that there will be no return of a border on island of Ireland.
Mr Varadkar expressed “an openness to consider proposals for a review”, raising concerns that the rush to get a deal could see unexpected compromise on the Irish side.
Ms McDonald said the Government had changed its position on Monday by signalling it would consider allowing “a review clause” to the backstop. The so-called backstop would at a minimum guarantee that the North would stay inside the EU customs union and close to the EU single market after all Brexit transition arrangements ended.
It is designed to kick in if the UK leaves the EU without a proper trading agreement after Brexit.
The Sinn Féin leader said the Taoiseach had presented the backstop as “bullet-proof and cast-iron” when it was first agreed in principle last December.
“I would urge you not to blink at this stage,” Ms McDonald told the Taoiseach.
Mr Varadkar hit back and said considering a review clause in no way involved agreeing UK demands to put in an expiry date or empower them to unilaterally pull out of the deal. He said at some time in the future a review of the backstop might suit the Republic of Ireland.
The Taoiseach said that along with protecting the border, Ireland also needed an orderly exit of the UK from the EU with a proper transition period. Otherwise many Irish jobs would be lost.
“I’m open to creative solutions and I’m open to creative language,” Mr Varadkar said. He pointed out that all EU treaties and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement would not have happened without a creative approach.
The Taoiseach also hit back at Sinn Féin saying they held “the world record” - at two years – for failing to negotiate a deal on restoring the power-sharing government in Belfast. He said it was good Ms McDonald was not involved in the Brexit talks.