Wednesday 16 October 2019

Varadkar warns that Brexit backstop can't have time limit

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has warned that the so-called backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland can't have a time-limit or a way for the UK to make a unilateral exit from it.

It comes as British Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay are due in Brussels tomorrow for talks with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

There had been reports that Mr Cox was prepared to drop UK attempts to get a time-limit or unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop to help prime minster Theresa May's Brexit deal pass a Westminster vote.

Mr Cox poured cold water on this today, tweeting that the report "consists of misunderstood fag ends dressed up as facts. Some of it is accurate, much more of it isn't and what is not is far more significant than what is".

Mr Varadkar was asked by reporters if Ireland might have to offer concessions on the backstop.

The Taoiseach said Brexit is entering a "sensitive phase" ahead of Westminster votes and a European Council meeting in the coming weeks.

He said: "I think Ireland as a country has been very flexible and very reasonable all along assisting the UK to resolve some of the problems which are largely of their own creation".

Mr Varadkar said Ireland would be "happy" to offer further clarifications and assurances to help the UK government get the Withdrawal Agreement over the line.

But he added: "from day one we've been very straight about a few things and one of those has been that Brexit cannot lead under any circumstances to the emergence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

"The backstop is a means to an end but it's a really important end and that is a legally binding assurance that there won't be a hard border on our island."

He said it is a workable mechanism to achieve that which is not theoretical.

"We need to know that that will apply and that it won't be time-limited and that there won't be a unilateral exit from it."

Mr Varadkar was speaking after meeting Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis.

The pair discussed Brexit and bilateral relations between the two countries and Mr Skvernelis said Ireland has Lithuania's full support during the Brexit process.

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