Leo Varadkar open to conditional review mechanism for border backstop

Leo Varadkar open to conditional review mechanism for border backstop

Update 5.19pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told Theresa May he is willing to consider proposals for a review clause in any backstop plans for the Irish border in the wake of Britain leaving the EU.

During a phone call between the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister today, Mr Varadkar said that the outcome of a review could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop.

Leo Varadkar open to conditional review mechanism for border backstop

A spokeswoman for the Government said that both leaders emphasised their commitment to avoiding a hard border and the need for a legally-operable backstop.

"The (British) Prime Minister raised the possibility of a review mechanism for the backstop," the spokeswoman added.

"The Taoiseach indicated an openness to consider proposals for a review, provided that it was clear that the outcome of any such review could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop.

"He recalled the prior commitments made that the backstop must apply 'unless, and until' alternative arrangements are agreed.

"They both expressed the hope that the negotiations could conclude in a satisfactory manner as soon as possible."

A Downing Street spokesman described Mrs May's conversation with Mr Varadkar as "constructive", adding: "They agreed that the intention was that the backstop should only be a temporary arrangement and that the best solution to the Northern Ireland border would be found by agreeing a future relationship between the UK and the EU.

"In order to ensure that the backstop, if ever needed, would be temporary, the Prime Minister said that there would need to be a mechanism through which the backstop could be brought to an end."

The call came after Mr Varadkar dismissed the idea of a time-limited backstop, saying it would not be worth the paper it is written on.

Reports at the weekend that UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has privately demanded the right to pull Britain out of the EU's proposed Irish backstop after just three months had been criticised by the Government.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that their position remains "consistent and clear" that a time-limited backstop will never be agreed to by Ireland or the EU.

Speaking this morning, Mr Varadkar described the UK as a "divided kingdom", which he said has not helped the negotiation process.

"The UK in many ways is a divided kingdom, the people are split 50/50 over whether they want to leave the European Union or not," he said.

"The Cabinet seems divided, the Government seems divided, Parliament is divided, and that has made it very difficult to come to an agreement.

"I'd much prefer to have a united kingdom, a united country, to be our partner in these negotiations, but we don't, so we have to work through.

"Thankfully in Ireland we have a government that is united, and we have in Parliament as well, that's largely united behind the Government on this issue."

He said that the Government was working hard to try to reach an agreement by the end of the year but added that it cannot countenance the idea of a three-month limit to the backstop agreement.

"A backstop with a three-month limit on it or expiry date of that nature isn't worth the paper it's written on and what the backstop the UK Government has signed up to is a legally operative backstop that will apply unless, and until, we have any agreement to supersede it," he continued.

"I think it's reasonable for us to expect a country like the United Kingdom and a government like the UK Government to stand by its commitments."

He spoke as he attended an official opening of a newly built development of 42 social homes in north Dublin.

The new housing features 31 one, two and three-bedroom apartments and 11 townhouses and will provide homes for 150 people.

It comes as the number of homeless people living in emergency accommodation increased last month, adding to the housing crisis.

Mr Varadkar said the new housing development is an example of the Government's attempt to sort out the housing shortage.

He added: "Of course to some of our opponents, particularly those on the left, this place doesn't exist because it's not directly built by a local authority, it's built through a partnership involving the city council and Oaklee Housing Trust.

"I think to the people who live here they will tell you that it does exist and that it provides really high quality public housing."

Update 1.05pm: The Taoiseach says a time-limited Brexit backstop would not be worth the paper it is written on.

A number of British media outlets are reporting the UK's Brexit Secretary - Dominic Raab - wants the backstop, which would avoid a hard border, to have an expiry date.

The backstop has been the sticking point in getting a Brexit deal over the line. It is the insurance policy to avoid a hard border if there is no trade deal reached between the EU and UK post-Brexit.

Leo Varadkar open to conditional review mechanism for border backstop

A UK-wide backstop would keep all of Britain aligned with the EU until there is a deal, essentially meaning they would have access to EU trade without being a paid up member.

Dominic Raab wants that to be time-limited, so British politicians can point to a date where the UK will no longer be tied to the EU.

But Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says that is not acceptable to the Government.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Varadkar described the UK as a “divided kingdom”, which he said has not helped the negotiation process.

“The UK in many ways is a divided kingdom, the people are split 50/50 over whether they want to leave the European Union or not,” he said.

“The Cabinet seems divided, the Government seems divided, Parliament is divided, and that has made it very difficult to come to an agreement.

“I’d much prefer to have a united kingdom, a united country, to be our partner in these negotiations, but we don’t, so we have to work through.

“Thankfully in Ireland we have a government that is united, and we have in Parliament as well, that’s largely united behind the Government on this issue.”

He said that the Government was working hard to try to reach an agreement by the end of the year but added that it cannot countenance the idea of a three-month limit to the backstop agreement.

A backstop with a three-month limit on it or expiry date of that nature isn’t worth the paper it’s written on and what the backstop the UK Government has signed up to is a legally operative backstop that will apply unless and until we have any agreement to supersede it,” he continued.

“I think it’s reasonable for us to expect a country like the United Kingdom and a government like the UK Government to stand by its commitments.”

He spoke as he attended an official opening of a newly built development of 42 social homes in north Dublin.

The new housing features 31 one, two and three-bedroom apartments and 11 townhouses and will provide homes for 150 people.

The Taoiseach's department also confirmed Mr Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May have spoken this morning by phone.

Ms May had sought the call to update Mr Varadkar on the Brexit negotiation.

A statement said that "The Prime Minister raised the possibility of a review mechanism for the backstop. The Taoiseach indicated an openness to consider proposals for a review, provided that it was clear that the outcome of any such review could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop.

"He recalled the prior commitments made that the backstop must apply ‘unless and until’ alternative arrangements are agreed."

Earlier today, EU deputy chief Brexit negotiator Sabine Weyand backed Ireland when it warned that a time-limited backstop on the Irish border would never be acceptable.

Simon Coveney tweeted to say: "The Irish position remains consistent and v clear? that a 'time-limited backstop' or a backstop that could be ended by UK unilaterally would never be agreed to by IRE or EU.

"These ideas are not backstops at all + don't deliver on previous UK commitments."

Ms Weyand linked to the comments on Twitter, adding: "Still necessary to repeat this, it seems."

- Digital Desk & PA

Update 9.10am: Time limit on backstop would 'never be agreed to by Ireland or the EU'

The Tánaiste says suggestions of a time limit on the backstop aimed at avoiding a hard border after Brexit would "never be agreed to by Ireland or the EU".

Simon Coveney has been responding to reports the British Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, wants the backstop to only last three months after Britain leaves.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Mr Raab has privately demanded the right to pull Britain out of the EU's proposed Irish backstop after just three months.

The backstop has emerged as the main stumbling block in the Brexit negotiations.

Reports at the weekend suggested that the EU is now ready to contemplate concessions which would keep all of the UK in a temporary customs union following the end of a transition period due to end on December 31 2020.

The Tánaiste has tweeted to say the idea does not deliver on the UK's previous commitments.

"The Irish position remains consistent and v clear⁩ that a 'time-limited backstop' or a backstop that could be ended by UK unilaterally would never be agreed to by IRE or EU.

"These ideas are not backstops at all + don’t deliver on previous UK commitments."

A spokesman for Mr Coveney said: "The UK has given written commitments last December and March that the withdrawal agreement will include a legal guarantee of no return to a hard border in Ireland in any circumstance.

"In March the UK agreed this backstop will apply 'unless and until' a close future relationship eliminates any need for border infrastructure or related checks and controls.

"While we too hope the Northern Ireland backstop will never be required to be used, it will be required to be written down in legal text.

"This has been committed to by the UK in order to have a withdrawal agreement. We hope a deal can be done but we're not there yet."

- Digital Desk and PA

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