Saturday 19 January 2019

Taoiseach to 'emphatically' tell Theresa May that backstop must remain

  • Theresa May was due to visit Dublin today
  • Varadkar to stand firm against the notion that the Withdrawal Agreement can be amended
  • Ministers discuss contingency plans for a no deal scenario
Get a grip: Theresa May is greeted by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the Netherlands. Picture: AP
Get a grip: Theresa May is greeted by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the Netherlands. Picture: AP
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

British Prime Minister Theresa May will be told "emphatically" that the backstop must stay in place.

The embattled UK leader's tour of Europe was due to bring her to Government Buildings where it was understood Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would stand firm against the notion that the Withdrawal Agreement can be amended.

Officials in Dublin were this morning still preparing for Mrs May's visit to Dublin - but the visit has now been cancelled as it would clash directly with the timing of the no confidence motion.

Amid the chaos in London, this morning Irish ministers and MEPs have been instructed to cancel all media engagements.

Independent.ie understands a warning has also been widely circulated to Fine Gael TDs and senators, urging them not to comment on developments.

The message states: “No tweets, no doorsteps, no interviews, no comment – stay out of UK political party leadership issues.”

Irish officials are openly speculating the most straightforward solution to the political crisis in the UK is to delay Brexit Day well beyond March.

Ministers yesterday discussed contingency plans for a no deal scenario - but the Government continues to refuse to release any substantial detail.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney

Tánaiste Simon Coveney provided colleagues with a four-and-a-half page update on Ireland's preparedness for Brexit at Cabinet - but took the document back afterwards, fearing it would find its way into the public domain.

One minister admitted to the Irish Independent: "They are afraid to tell people how bad it's going to be if there's no deal. The real hope is that something will happen."

Sources said the document contained some details on plans for ramping up the recruitment of customs, veterinary and health officials.

It also noted large swathes of legislation would have to be amended by the Dáil in a hurry to acknowledge the UK is no longer inside Europe's single market and customs union.

Dublin will be looking to the EU to ensure workable arrangements are in place to allow air traffic to continue if the UK crashes out, thereby voiding existing agreements.

Ministers have been told to continue insisting that Ireland is not preparing for a hard Border, even as the prospect of a no deal grows.

Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after attending a church service near her Maidenhead constituency. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after attending a church service near her Maidenhead constituency. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Mrs May met with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague and German leader Angela Merkel in Berlin yesterday.

Both insisted negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened but they are willing to give assurances about how the exit treaty will be interpreted.

The prime minister's diplomatic mission then moved to Brussels where she held talks with EU Council President Donald Tusk.

He tweeted afterwards: "Long and frank discussion with PM Theresa May ahead of Brexit summit. Clear that EU 27 wants to help. The question is how."

It is not yet clear whether Mrs May will still attend Government Buildings this evening.

A call to reverse the Brexit vote (Yui Mok/PA)
A call to reverse the Brexit vote (Yui Mok/PA)

Mrs May yesterday brushed aside speculation about her future, saying her focus was on "dealing with the issue".

"Whatever outcome we want, whatever relationship we want with the European Union in future, there is no deal available that doesn't have a backstop within it.

"But we don't want the backstop to be used and if it is want to be certain it is only temporary.

"It is those assurances that I will be seeking from fellow leaders over the coming days," Mrs May said.

In the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said everybody "wants to avoid a no deal scenario".

He said the "power exists" for the UK "to remove the threat of "no deal from its own people, its economy, from ours and from Europe, should it wish to do so".

"It can do so by revoking Article 50 or, if that is a step too far, by seeking an extension to Article 50," Mr Varadkar told TDs.

However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that while he always felt there would be a deal, "I believe we can be no longer certain of that.

"It is in that context that we as a country must be prepared for any eventuality."

Mr Martin urged the Government to begin publishing details of their planning for a no deal scenario.

"The public deserves to know about the content of the plans and their implications," he added.

Irish Independent

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