Varadkar sets out unchanged Irish position on backstop during phone call with Theresa May

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rebuffed demands from British Prime Minister Theresa May to re-open the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, insisting it is the only viable option.

The Taoiseach and Mrs May spoke on Wednesday afternoon by telephone following the vote in the House of Commons which seeks to set aside the provision for a backstop in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

During the conversation, Mr Varadkar set out once again the unchanged Irish and EU position on the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop, noting that the latest developments had reinforced the need for a backstop which is legally robust and workable in practice.

According to a note, the Prime Minister indicated that further consultations are taking place in London. The two leaders agreed to stay in touch over the coming period.

Earlier, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker described the agreement reached after 18 months of negotiation last November as “the best and only deal possible”.

And he told MEPs in the European Parliament in Brussels: “The debate and votes in the House of Commons yesterday do not change that.

The withdrawal agreement will not be renegotiated.

Mr Juncker said he would stay in close contact with Mrs May and would “listen to her ideas”.

But he added: “I will also be extremely clear about the position of the EU.

"Yesterday’s vote has further increased the risk of a disorderly exit of the UK.”

Tuesday’s Commons vote demanded the replacement of the backstop with “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

But the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told MEPs that “no-one, on one side or the other, can say very clearly and precisely what form these alternative arrangements will take”.

Insisting that the plan remains “at the heart” of the EU’s efforts to protect the single market, Mr Barnier said: “The backstop is part and parcel of the withdrawal agreement and this agreement will not be renegotiated.”

The prime minister’s spokesman said: “The EU had said it was seeking clarity — there had been suggestions that the backstop was not the main issue of concern, which had originated in Brussels.

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