Sunday 19 January 2020

Amendments to Brexit plan not a 'cause for panic' - Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA

Aoife Moore and David Young

The Taoiseach has insisted amendments to the UK Government's Brexit plans are not a cause of panic.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the "instability and turmoil" in London was not a reason for the Irish government to change its position in regard to the Irish border.

His comments came after Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said Westminster amendments to the UK Government's Customs Bill had placed "serious doubt" over Theresa May's Brexit blueprint.

A number of TDs claim changes secured by Brexiteer MPs in the Commons have undermined efforts to maintain a free-flowing Irish border post Brexit.

Commenting on the situation on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar said the developments at Westminster "shouldn't give us cause for panic, and certainly shouldn't give us any reason to change our position".

One of the controversial amendments saw the insertion of a legal guarantee that there will be no post-Brexit customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

That appears to run contrary to the so-called "backstop" position agreed by the UK and EU last year, which stated that Northern Ireland would remain subject to an EU customs regime if a wider trade deal failed to materialise.

While Mrs May had already rejected suggestions that there could be a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, many Remainers believe the legally binding amendment has reduced the chances of securing an agreed backstop in the withdrawal treaty.

Mr Varadkar said while his government continued to make contingency plans for a hard Brexit, he stressed authorities were not planning for a hardened border.

Remainers contend that other amendments to the Customs Bill have dealt a fatal blow to the UK Government's customs plans, as laid out in its white paper last week.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Flanagan said: "The situation in the UK is on a knife edge. We have seen the publication of the white paper, which was welcome, now the content of that white paper are in serious doubt."

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said there would not be a withdrawal treaty without a legally binding backstop.

"It is fully accepted and understood that there can be no withdrawal agreement without a legally operable backstop ensuring that there will be no hard border," he said.

Sinn Fein's vice president Michelle O'Neill accused the UK government of neglecting Northern Ireland.

"What we saw yesterday was more debacle and chaos in the Tory party, infighting continues as we approach a critical time in Brexit negotiations," she said.

"Theresa May is trying to placate the hard-line Brexiteers and the DUP who are propping her up."

PA Media

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