Wednesday 21 November 2018

Taoiseach under fire for 'green jersey' demands in Brexit talks

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Philip Ryan and John Downing

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has come under fire for suggesting the Opposition and media should put on the ‘green jersey’ and unquestioningly support his Brexit strategy.

Opposition leaders rounded on him after he announced he was open to the introduction of a review mechanism of the Brexit agreement.

Independent.ie reported on the alarm which surrounded the backtrack on the Brexit backstop that would ensure there will be no border on the island of Ireland.

But the Taoiseach’s officials have been extremely critical of media coverage and Opposition TDs whenever they perceive their commentary is not supportive of the Government’s stance.

One senior official even attacked this newspaper, saying “you are the only guys in Ireland” who are criticising the proposal for a review of the Border deal.

“The only way we can get a Brexit deal is to allow the negotiations to go on in confidence,” he added.

However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the Taoiseach is displaying an “intolerance of genuine criticism” of his Brexit plans.

“The prevalence of megaphone diplomacy and the over-hyping of the December agreement of last year has not helped,” he told Independent.ie.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin also said the Government has been “overly sensitive” to criticism on Brexit.

“Fine Gael wants Opposition parties to pull on the green jersey, but its view of that is unquestioning support for its position,” he said.

In the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused the Taoiseach of “losing his nerve” and “blinking” at a crucial final phase in the marathon Brexit talks.

It came as British Prime Minister Theresa May was accused of secretly lining up a Brexit deal behind the backs of her cabinet after a leaked memo revealed detailed plans for selling the agreement to the public.

A three-week strategy leading up to a parliamentary vote includes daily “themed” announcements, a major speech by Mrs May and a televised interview.

The document, which was seen by the BBC and appears to have been written in the past week, proposes a vote on the deal on November 27.

This has added to suspicions from British ministers that Mrs May, desperate for a deal before Christmas, was rushing into an agreement with Brussels.

Meanwhile, there is confusion over how a review of the so-called ‘backstop’ would even work, if it was included in the final Brexit deal.

The Taoiseach’s spokesperson suggested a review of the agreement on the Irish Border was already included in the Brexit agreement signed off by the EU and Britain last March.

He said the agreement included a provision that would allow for the replacement of the backstop with another deal as along as it did not result in a hard Border.

The spokesperson also suggested a review could be carried out by the joint committee that oversees the implementation of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

This body includes representatives from the EU and Britain, but not specifically Irish representatives.

The draft withdrawal agreement also includes a provision for the establishment of a sub-committee which could review the final agreement on the Border.

But the Taoiseach was forced to defend his decision to suggest a review clause on the Border backstop.

Mr Varadkar insisted he had not weakened Ireland’s negotiating position by agreeing to a review mechanism during a conversation with Mrs May.

Mr Varadkar said he would only agree to a review if the deal on the Border did not have an expiry date and could not be ended at the behest of the British government alone.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier also poured cold wateron a potential deal on the Border.

“We are not yet there. We have a lot more work to do,” Mr Barnier said.

He reinforced the EU position that a Border deal could not include an expiry date.

Speaking to his own Cabinet ministers in Government Buildings, the Taoiseach said the EU was making progress but he was not sure they could “see the landing zone yet”.

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business