Wednesday 23 January 2019

Varadkar ramps up pressure on British PM

Leo Varadkar. Photo: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
Leo Varadkar. Photo: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has ramped up the pressure on British Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of a one-on-one meeting, playing down any suggestion progress on Brexit has been made in recent weeks.

Mr Varadkar is at an informal meeting of EU leaders in Salzburg and will meet Mrs May today on the sidelines of the summit. He is expected to insist that movement is needed from the British side in the negotiations.

Speaking ahead of a dinner to open the summit, Mr Varadkar said: "If any sense has been created that any form of significant progress has been made in the last couple of weeks, unfortunately that's not the case."

At that dinner, Mrs May is understood to have rejected an EU proposal on the backstop which would have seen light-touch east-west checks taking place on certain goods in Northern Ireland.

The so-called backstop, that would maintain a frictionless Border on the island of Ireland until a future relationship is agreed, is the final stumbling block as a deadline to agree a withdrawal agreement looms.

The EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, suggested arrangements could be made to conduct the majority of checks on imports and exports away from the Border itself. The checks were outlined in a redrafted version of the legal expression of the backstop. But hopes that it would be more palatable to the UK were quickly dashed with opposition from UK Brexiteers and the DUP in the North.

No deal: EC president Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: Getty Images
No deal: EC president Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: Getty Images

Mrs May is believed to have said the proposal would create a customs border in the Irish Sea. "The Commission is proposing I should assent to legal separation of the UK into two customs territories. That is simply not acceptable," she said.

Meanwhile, both Mr Varadkar and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker signalled that a deal was a long way off.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland's position and that of the EU has not changed.

Asked if another EU redrafting of the backstop text was on the cards, he said the EU has had a position since March and that the UK has yet to bring one forward.

"The EU has a text that we have presented back in March - we have yet to see an alternative text from the United Kingdom government that anybody in the EU finds to be acceptable, one that actually satisfies what we need, which is a reassurance that there won't be a hard Border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and that the backstop would apply unless and until we are in a position to negotiate a free trade agreement between the EU and the UK," he said.

It is understood that the UK is working on new proposals relating to the regulatory control aspect of its backstop proposals.

Mr Varadkar said the UK "shall have to" move on the Border question. He said Ireland was ready for a no-deal scenario, but noted the country would suffer. He added he did not think that was where things were heading.

Despite her objections to the backstop as it stands now, Mrs May reaffirmed her commitment to putting a backstop in place and to getting a withdrawal deal over the line.

Irish Independent

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