Coveney and Varadkar reject idea of time-limited backstop

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told Theresa May that the UK cannot unilaterally decide when the controversial Irish backstop can be terminated after Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab again floated the idea of a time-limited agreement.

Following a phone call with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr Varadkar said that Ireland will consider a “review mechanism” to the backstop issue which is causing an impasse in Brexit negotiations.

However, Mr Varadkar also commented that the outcome of any such review “could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop”. The backstop is designed to ensure there is no return to a hard-border in Ireland and has proved to be a sticking point in negotiations.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Mr Varadkar overtly rejected fresh calls for the backstop agreement to have an expiration or time-limit in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Dominic Raab, the UK’s Brexit Secretary, privately demanded the right of the UK to quit the EU’s Irish backstop after just three months.

Dominic Raab, the UK’s Brexit secretary, has privately demanded the right of the UK to quit the EU’s Irish backstop after just three months. The backstop is designed to ensure there is no return to a hard-border in Ireland and has proved to be a sticking point in negotiations.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Raab said that, after six months at the very most after exiting the EU, the UK would have the unilateral right to trigger a “review mechanism” and ditch the backstop.

The backstop would then only persist by “mutual consent”, Raab added.

The hardline stance, which has stunned Irish officials, is poised to delay the Brexit divorce deal by at least another week.

Responding to the reports of what Dominic Raab has demanded, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said such a situation would not constitute a backstop at all, and doesn’t deliver on previous UK commitments.

Sabine Weyand, who is deputy to Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, echoed the sentiments of Simon Coveney’s backstop tweet, saying: “Still necessary to repeat this, it seems”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also said the government in Ireland ‘can’t countenance any idea’ involving a limit like this on the backstop.

“A backstop with a three month limit on it or an expiry date of that nature is not worth the paper it is written on and what the UK government signed up to is a legally operative backstop that will apply unless and until we have a new agreement to supersede it,” he told reporters in Dublin this morning.

“And 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.

Raab’s plan strays from comments made by Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington during a visit to Dublin last week.

After that meeting, Coveney said: “I think we’re very close to resolving it, I certainly hope we are.”

Assurances

Karen Bradley, Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State, last month provided assurances that the British government will not repudiate the “backstop” commitment in Brexit negotiations, contradicting one of her party’s main negotiators.

“We are committed to everything we have agreed to in the joint report and we will ensure there is no border on the island of Ireland,” she told the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in London on Monday.

European Commission publishes border plan
Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney speaking to the media at Stormont House about Northern Ireland and Brexit earlier this year. (Photo: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie)

The backstop ensures that Northern Ireland would stay “aligned” to the regulations of the single market and the customs union if there is still no other solution that would avoid infrastructure along the Irish border.

The backstop would kick in at the end of the transition period – which starts on 29 March and ends on 31 December 2020 – if a final deal on trade and other matters is agreed.

Theresa May is set to hold a Cabinet meeting tomorrow, with Raab’s proposal likely to feature prominently.

By Friday, the Guardian reports, the EU will have to decide whether there has been enough progress towards a deal to justify scheduling an emergency summit later this month to finalise it.

The talks could extend into December, but Theresa May would rather avoid this scenario as it would ensure that there would be no chance of securing the parliamentary vote over or before Christmas.


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