Tuesday 16 July 2019

Varadkar will tell May 'nothing has changed' at dinner

New poll shows 79pc believe Irish Government must not cede last-minute ground on backstop

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker shakes hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May before their meeting at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. AP Photo/Francisco Seco
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker shakes hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May before their meeting at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. AP Photo/Francisco Seco
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

British Prime Minister Theresa May will be told "nothing has changed" on Brexit when she dines with the Taoiseach in Dublin tonight.

After a day of "robust" exchanges with EU chiefs in Brussels, Mrs May hopes to convince Leo Varadkar to offer some compromise on the backstop.

However, the Irish side has not even placed Brexit on the agenda for the meeting.

Instead Mr Varadkar wants to focus on ways of re-establishing the Northern Ireland executive.

"Brexit will be the elephant in the room so if she wants to discuss it we will, but nothing has changed," a source told the Irish Independent.

They added that if Mrs May was to introduce new ideas on how to maintain an open Border then the Taoiseach would listen.

The tone for the meeting has already been set by a difficult day in Brussels for Mrs May during which she was told in no uncertain terms that the EU will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.

European Council chief Donald Tusk is understood to have told the prime minister that her Labour Party rival Jeremy Corbyn's plan for the UK to remain in the customs union "would be a promising way out" of the current stalemate.

Mr Varadkar's hardline stance is likely to be buoyed by research which 'Sky News' plans to release today showing 79pc of voters here believe he should hold out for a legal guarantee even if it risks a no-deal Brexit.

The broadcaster polled more than 1,600 people and found just 7pc think Ireland should compromise at this late stage.

Seeking support: Tánaiste Simon Coveney lobbied in the US. Photo: PA
Seeking support: Tánaiste Simon Coveney lobbied in the US. Photo: PA

Remarkably, eight out of 10 would cut economic ties with the UK rather than with the EU if they had to choose.

On the question of Irish unity, a strong majority (64pc) support the idea of a 32-county republic.

Ahead of hosting Mrs May tonight, the Taoiseach will travel to Belfast for meetings with Northern Ireland's five main political parties.

His discussions with the DUP, which aggressively opposes the backstop, will be closely watched in London and Brussels.

Addressing the Dublin Chamber of Commerce AGM last night, Mr Varadkar said: "Brexit is the great political challenge of our time, and we have to hold true to our position and we have to hold our nerve."

He said the Government's main objective is a close trading relationship with Britain that ensures "no tariffs, no red tape, no customs and of course to avoid the reintroduction of a hard Border on the island of Ireland and to protect the rights and freedoms of EU citizens north and south of the Border".

The Taoiseach noted that he has alerted the European Commission that Ireland will seek emergency aid in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

"The purpose of this aid would be to help mitigate the impact on Irish trade," he said.

Meanwhile Tánaiste Simon Coveney has concluded two days of lobbying support in the United States, including inside the Trump administration.

He briefed the White House's acting chief of staff yesterday, telling reporters afterwards that Mick Mulvaney agrees Ireland cannot be "collateral damage" in Brexit.

Mr Coveney said that the Irish-American is a "very influential person" within Donald Trump's administration.

"He understands only too well the fragility of the peace process and certainly agrees that Ireland cannot be collateral damage here because of a Brexit deal that doesn't take account of the obligations of the British and Irish governments to protect a peace process and an all-island economy that reinforces that peace process," Mr Coveney said.

"Of course, the Border question is very much at the centre of that issue.

"That is understood in the real heart of Washington now and I would be surprised if that view wasn't heard clearly in London."

The Tánaiste said the message from Washington to the UK is that Irish-America is "watching very closely".

Irish Independent

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