– Ireland support for May’s Brexit progress
– But it could all fall apart from Tory in-fighting
Ireland has given a cautious welcome to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan – which prompted two Cabinet resignations – due to be made public as a White Paper this week.
The tentative show of support comes as the rest of Europe watches on agog as the ruling conservative Party threatens to tear it rest from its Brexiteers led by backbencher Jacob Rees Mogg and his European Research Group faction of MPs.
Mrs May secured the backing of most of her Cabinet for the White Paper but hard-line Brexiteer members of her party objected to the fact that it would see Britain following EU rules on goods, although not services, without having any say on those rules.
Mr Varadkar, although cautious, and probably even skeptical, about the likelihood of the rest of the EU accepting her compromise Customs plan said she had scored a “real political success”.
He made his remarks at Dublin Castle following a visit by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose government has assumed the rotating EU Presidency. Chancellor Kurz was this week due to visit Ireland’s Border region.
Within hours Brexit Secretary David Davis had resigned, followed several hours later by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – the two most senior Brexiteers within her Cabinet. Mr Varadkar’s attempt of show support for Mrs May follows similar re Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier who appealed for less drama and time to examine the White Paper proposals on their merit.
President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker said to reporters in Brussels that Johnson’s departure meant Mrs May had successfully united her cabinet around her proposals and proper negotiations could soon begin.
The UK’s soft Brexit proposal calls for a new UK-EU customs area while Britain remains free to apply its own, different tariffs. It would align Britain to the European Single Market for goods but move for services. Britain would also impose restrictions on movement of EU citizens to settle and work there.
In his initial reaction to the British plan Mr Varadkar said logic dictates that the UK must be a full member of the European Single Market.
He said he had “some concerns about the workability of the UK’s customs” proposals and the plan’s effect on the integrity of the single market. But it did mean the proposals could “input into the negotiations”, he said. “Time is running short and we are approaching crunch time in negotiations and we continue to have some concerns about the workability of the UK’s customs proposals.
“We look forward to seeing the White Paper so that we know more detail,” he added.
He said there would still have to be a backstop agreement and this – through its single market proposal – could go some way to providing a solution to the border issue.
Overall, he said, Ireland could probably be more optimistic than a week ago and suggested that there should an informal EU summit in Salzburg in September for Brexit negotiations. Mr Varadkar said the backstop – which binds Northern Ireland to EU regulations – is still needed as an “insurance policy” to avoid a hard border.
He said Ireland has emergency plans in the case of a no-deal and a partial deal with a backstop and these would be revealed before the end of this month.