Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar suggested in exchanges in Dail Eireann earlier today that the drafted withdrawal agreement for Brexit contains the key elements of the backstop for the Irish border that they have insisted on during negotiations.
Varadkar was briefed overnight on the detail of the withdrawal agreement and implied that Theresa May did not get the concessions she, or Brexiteers, wanted.
The backstop “can’t have an expiry date and it can’t be possible for any one side to withdraw from it unilaterally,” he said in leaders questions in the Dail.
“It is our intention that the backstop should never have to be invoked and if it is invoked it should be temporary,” Mr Varadkar added.
Mr Varadkar chaired a meeting of the Cabinet in Dublin this morning where ministers were briefed on the contents of the deal. However, the Government is remaining mostly silent on the draft agreement for now as they fear any further comment may further complicate matters for Theresa May as she pushes for cabinet backing on the deal.
A cabinet meeting is taking place in London now to consider the draft text of the Brexit withdrawal treaty after negotiators made a breakthrough on the border in Ireland. Speculation is swirling that some Brexiteer ministers could quit in protest at May’s deal, in what could turn out to be a treacherous day for the prime minister.
Arlene Foster and her Democratic Unionist Party have also warned Theresa May that the proposed Brexit deal is unacceptable and that it threatens to break up the United Kingdom.
Negotiators concluded a draft deal of more than 500 pages after crunch talks in Brussels. The text involves a temporary UK-wide customs arrangement including special provisions for Northern Ireland.
The proposed deal is said to eliminate any risk of borders that stifle trade emerging either at the north-south crossings or at the east-west divide in the Irish Sea.
The DUP has reiterated its opposition to the proposals, while many Labour and Tory remainers also told May that she could not expect to count on their support.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the DUP’s chief whip at Westminster, Jeffrey Donaldson, said his party, whose support props up May’s party in government, could not back the deal as it stands.
“This is not the right Brexit,” he said. “It doesn’t give the United Kingdom as a whole the opportunity to do free trade deals and to take control of its own future.”
Donaldson claimed that the deal “fundamentally undermines the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK” and hinted that such a deal would inevitably lead to calls from Scotland – who voted overwhelmingly to remain – for a similar arrangement.
Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, said last night that it would be “democratically unacceptable” for Northern Ireland trade rules to be set by Brussels. She also suggested that there is cross-party support for a striking down of the withdrawal text.
“An agreement which places new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will fundamentally undermine the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK,” she said.
She added: “I am heartened by friends of the union on both sides of the house and across the UK who have pledged to stand with the DUP in opposing a deal which weakens the union and hands control to Brussels rather than the British parliament.”
William Hague, the former Conservative leader, said yesterday: “Did anyone really think we could leave the EU without having to make some compromises?”
If the deal is agreed by both sides, it could clear the way for an EU leaders’ summit at the end of the month where the withdrawal agreement could be signed off and sent to the European Parliament and Westminster for approval.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is expected to make a statement on the draft deal at noon in the Dail after briefing ministers and TD while May’s emergency cabinet meeting takes place at 2pm.