Brexit: Irish prime minister rejects Theresa May’s customs back-stop plan

UK paper does not 'honour' commitments made in March and December says Taoiseach

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Thursday 21 June 2018 17:31
Irish PM Leo Varakdar rejects Theresa May’s Brexit backstop plan

Ireland’s prime minister has rejected Theresa May’s plan to avoid a hard border after Brexit, warning that it does not honour the commitments the prime minister made in December and March.

Calling for talks to “intensify”, Leo Varadkar said the UK plan published at the start of the month was unworkable because it was time-limited and did not cover alignment of goods.

“I think it’s important to recall the British government’s commitments … what was agreed in December in writing between the UK and the EU was that there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland, no physical infrastructure, no associated controls or checks and that would be achieved by full regulatory alignment,” he said at a press conference in Dublin.

“Then in March it was agreed in writing by Prime Minister May that it would have to form part of the withdrawal agreement.

“What was produced in the last couple of weeks, while it does contain some elements that honour those commitments, it doesn’t contain them all. It is time-limited, which we cannot accept a backstop - a time-limit is not a backstop. While it does cover issues like customs it doesn’t cover, by its own admission, regulatory alignment.”

Raising the prospect of no deal, he added: “A withdrawal agreement without a backstop is of no use to us whatsoever.”

Speaking at the same press conference Jean-Claude Juncker, who is visiting Ireland on Thursday and Friday, said the whole EU stood with Mr Varadkar’s country.

What was produced in the last couple of weeks, while it does contain some elements that honour those commitments, it doesn’t contain them all.

Leo Varadkar, Irish PM

“Ireland is not alone,” the European Commission president said. “We have Ireland backed by 26 member states and by the Commission. This will not change - I am strongly against any temptation to try and isolate Ireland, to no conclude a deal on Ireland.”

A senior UK cabinet source however said on Thursday that the Cabinet was unanimous in its rejection of the EU’s backstop plan.

“I know of no member of the Cabinet in London who would be prepared to sign up to the Commission text. And I include the most ardent of Remainers in that,” they said.

Theresa May is due to meet with the other 27 EU leaders at a summit in Brussels next week. Leaders are expected to express their concern at a lack of progress on the border backstop issue and pledge to intensify contingency planning for a no deal.

The European Commission has already raised a number of percieved problems with the UK backstop plan but has said it would continue to examine the plan.

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