Taoiseach reaffirms position on review clause on Brexit border backstop

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed he will allow a "review clause" to be introduced in the vital Northern Ireland border backstop in a bid to save Brexit from the brink of collapse.

Mr Varadkar made the deeply controversial admission despite insisting the move is not the same as an "exit clause" to any backstop Britain is seeking amid opposition outrage over the comments.

Speaking during the Dáil leaders questions debate after it emerged an independent review of the backstop may be considered as part of any Brexit deal, Mr Varadkar said while he has not agreed to the move he may be willing to allow it.

In a severe row-back on his "cast iron" and "bullet proof" description of the backstop last December, Mr Varadkar said a "review clause" may now be introduced in any deal in order to appease hardline Brexiteers in the British government.

However, despite the revelation, the Taoiseach attempted to downplay the significance of the move by saying this does not water down the backstop itself.

"We should remember what we're trying to achieve here. It [the backstop] may never need to be used, and if it does it may indeed be temporary. But our position has not changed.

"A review clause may be negotiated, but it may be to our advantage to have a review. But this is very different to an exit clause, or an expiry date.

"Yes, I'm open to creative solutions and creative language, but that backstop cannot have an expiry date or unilateral exit clause," Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach continued that while he is officially open to the review move "I've committed to nothing".

He said "to come to an agreement you sometimes have to be creative" in order to get your "objectives" over the line, and lashed out at Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald's no review stance by saying:

"I have to say it's a very good thing you're not involved in the negotiations. You're too extreme, too uncompromising, too bullying, and you would turn our friends into enemies within months."

Ms McDonald lashed out at Mr Varadkar's comments, saying simply that the confirmation of a review "was a cock-up, plain and simple".

She said ever since the "cast iron" and "bullet proof" Brexit backstop announcement last Decembet "the British government has rowed back" and that "our insurance policy" is no longer protected.

Calling for a real "solution" to the Northern Ireland border crisis that is "clearly understood" and that "isn't couched in ifs and buts and conditions", Ms McDonald said "there can't be any fudging... temporary protections are no protections".

She said Mr Varadkar has "shifted" his position on the backstop, and accused him of both "muddying the waters" and having "lost your nerve" just when Ireland needs him to show concrete leadership most.

The concerns were repeated at a later Dáil debate by Fianna Fáil, Labour and Solidarity-People Before Profit.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin demanded Mr Varadkar explain exactly how a backstop can remain as a backstop if it now undergoes a planned review.

During the same discussion, Sol-PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett also called for the Irish public to be allowed to vote on any Brexit or backstop deal - a call Mr Varadkar rejected as any deal will be between the EU and Britain, with Ireland only part of the EU.

Sinn Féin accuse Varadkar of 'losing his nerve' over Brexit

Sinn Féin has accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of "losing his nerve" over Brexit after he opened up the possibility of agreeing to a "damaging" review of the Northern Ireland border backstop.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald made the claim amid heightened Irish fears of the review and after it was flagged in a formal statement by Mr Varadkar on Monday.

In a statement responding to a phone call with British prime minister Theresa May, Mr Varadkar said on Monday he would be open to "considering" a "review mechanism" on the backstop after it has been signed.

This was in response to British calls for the backstop to be time-limited and to potentially only last a short number of months before it is replaced by a potential UK-wide customs union deal.

Senior Irish Government sources have stressed Mr Varadkar's statement only intended to give British and EU officials space to agree a deal, and that the backstop will remain entirely in place unless a new deal that further protects Ireland's interests is introduced.

However, speaking to reporters at Leinster House this morning, Ms McDonald said any suggestion Ireland may be willing to budget on the backstop risks severely damaging the country and our Brexit position.

"We are reaching crunch time.

"Last December we were told that we had an arrangement and an agreement that was iron clad, that was water tight, and that would protect Ireland, our peace agreement, our economy, our service provision and the rights of citizens in the North.

"We know that as soon as the Taoiseach made that claim it was disproven, not least by the British government as they rode back from commitments that they had entered into.

We have said all along that the backstop envisaged is the bottom line, they are the very basic requirements for Ireland to ensure we are protected from the very worst excesses of Brexit.

"We've made this point repeatedly to An Taoiseach, to Tánaiste, and we have encouraged them to stay the course, not to lose focus, not to blink, and not to dilute down that stance.

"Unfortunately, it seems now the Taoiseach has perhaps lost his nerve.

"We are very, very concerned to hear any talk of review clauses within a backstop arrangement. The truth is Brexit isn't a transient matter, it's for keeps. Its effects and damage will be enduring.

"By even entertaining any notion of a review of the situation is implicitly signing up to an arrangement that is less than enduring, in other words that is temporary.

"We believe that is wrong, reckless, and we will caution them not to go down that road," she said.

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