Monday 14 October 2019

Varadkar to reject 'halfway house' on backstop in latest meeting with PM

Taoiseach insists Ireland 'won't fold at last minute'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the UN headquarters in New York. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the UN headquarters in New York. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Cormac McQuinn in New York and Kevin Doyle

Ireland will not agree to a watered-down backstop just to avoid a disorderly Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will warn the British prime minister today.

Amid downbeat assessments as to whether a Brexit deal can be done, Mr Varadkar intends to make it clear that the EU will not accept "some sort of halfway house" alternative to the backstop.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

As he travelled to New York for a UN summit, Boris Johnson insisted "a great deal of progress" had been made in talks between the UK and EU.

However, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said yesterday it is difficult to see how the impasse over the Northern Ireland backstop can be overcome.

Mr Barnier said the EU "remains open to talks and progress", but that the UK side had yet to come forward with proposals which could offer the basis of a solution.

"Based on current UK thinking, it is difficult to see how we can arrive at a legally operative solution which fulfils all the objectives of the backstop," he said, following talks in Berlin with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson will have their second face-to-face meeting today - but Irish officials played down any expectation of a breakthrough.

The meeting comes amid reports that UK diplomats and ministers are briefing EU counterparts that the Irish Government is only now waking up to the threat of a no-deal Brexit.

Sources have suggested the UK believes Ireland will agree a deal at the last minute rather than face the worst-case scenario.

But Mr Varadkar said the UK will be to blame if there is a return to some form of border checks in the event of a crash-out scenario.

He insisted Ireland won't cave on the need for the backstop or realistic alternatives, while saying: "We will work until the very last moment to avoid no deal, but not at any cost."

The two leaders plan "to compare notes, see if there's more common ground, [and] see if we can make more progress".

Mr Varadkar added: "Our bottom line is that we need a legally binding assurance that there won't be a hard Border between North and south, that the all-island economy will continue to operate, that North-south co-operation will be able to continue.

"We can't accept some sort of halfway house."

Mr Varadkar said he does not expect to come under pressure from other EU leaders as the October 31 deadline looms.

"One thing I do know about Brexit for the last two or three years, and there are some people in Britain... who took the view that sooner or later, the French, the Germans, the big countries would gang up on Ireland and that's never happened," he said.

"And there are also some people who may believe that at the last minute that Ireland would somehow fold or give up our position. That's not going to happen."

He said the Government is willing to examine alternative arrangements that achieve the same objectives to the backstop.

"If the United Kingdom can come up with alternative arrangements that meet those objectives, that are legally binding, well, we're willing to accept that and examine those.

"But so far anything that they've come up with falls very far short of that," he said.

Freedoms

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson is using his trip Stateside to try drum up support for Brexit.

He will today tell US and Canadian business leaders that the UK wants to have the "most competitive tax rates", with "better" regulation for key sectors, once it is free of the constraints from Brussels.

The prime minister will promise to "roll out the red carpet" for firms seeking to locate in the UK.

"As we come out of the EU, we are going up a gear. We are going to take advantage of all the freedoms that Brexit can give," he will say.

"Whether that is new tax allowances for investment, or speeding up public procurement contracts, or creating free ports and new enterprise zones, or devising better regulation for the sectors in which the UK leads the world.

"We want a market that is open to the world, with the most competitive tax rates and the best skilled workforce in the hemisphere.

"And so I say to our American friends, we will roll out the red carpet."

Irish Independent

Also in Business