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Wednesday 8 February 2023 Dublin: 4°C
PA Images Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
# Brexit
Varadkar tells May he's open to backstop review as long as UK can't unilaterally pull out
It comes as the UK’s Brexit Minister Dominic Rabb has reportedly hardened his stance.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 5th 2018, 1:02 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR and UK Prime Minister Theresa May have spoken by phone as high-level Brexit negotiations become more fractious and public.

The UK’s Brexit Minister Dominic Rabb has reportedly asked May to insist that Britain has the right to pull out of the Irish backstop after just three months. A stance that could be potentially calamitous to the chances of securing a deal with the EU this week.

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

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.

The Irish and UK leaders spoke also by phone this morning with a statement by the Department of the Taoiseach saying the call came at the request of May.

The department said that Varadkar was not opposed to a review of the backstop but that the UK must not have the sole decision after any such review.

“Both leaders emphasised their commitment to avoiding a hard border and the need for a legally operable backstop,” the statement said.

It continued:

The Prime Minister raised the possibility of a review mechanism for the backstop. The Taoiseach indicated an openness to consider proposals for a review, provided that it was clear that the outcome of any such review could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop. He recalled the prior commitments made that the backstop must apply ‘unless and until’ alternative arrangements are agreed. They both expressed the hope that the negotiations could conclude in a satisfactory manner as soon as possible.


The Daily Telegraph reported today that Raab had adopted the hardline stance which is at odds with the guarantees sought by the EU and Ireland that there would be no physical border between Northern Ireland and Ireland once Britain leaves the EU.

His plan would grant a “review mechanism” within three or six months of the backstop coming into effect, allowing the UK the right to ditch the backstop if it so wished after this time period.

This plan is one at odds with 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.”

Lidington said: “We’re certainly, as Simon says, very close to resolving it.”

The Tánaiste said this morning, however, that proposals such as those coming from Raab would undermine any chance of a deal.

He said: “The Irish position remains consistent and [very] clear⁩ that a ‘time-limited backstop’ or a backstop that could be ended by UK unilaterally would never be agreed to by [Ireland] or EU.”

What is the backstop? 

Put simply, 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. 

The issue has remained one of the chief sticking points in the negotiations between the EU and UK for some time.

A backstop remains unpalatable to hardline Brexiteers and the DUP, who argue that this arrangement cuts off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Theresa May’s government has made a commitment to ensuring no hard border in Northern Ireland but is beset on all sides by agitators in her own party and the DUP which is helping to prop up her government. 

Next steps

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

She is expected to warn her most stridently anti-EU MPs that they will be held responsible for the consequences of a no-deal Brexit if they do not vote for her deal.

However, if these Brexiteers are not convinced that the customs union is only a temporary measure they would almost certainly rebel.

Cabinet are also set to discuss a potential EU summit pencilled in for the end of November if they agree enough progress has been made.

The UK parliament would then vote on the deal in December, as other EU countries would also have to ratify the deal reached. 

Separately, more than 70 business leaders penned a letter to the Sunday Times calling for a second Brexit referendum.

Cobra Beer founder Lord Bilimoria and former Marks and Spencer chairman Alex Chesterman were among those who warned Britain was “facing either a blindfold or a destructive hard Brexit” which would depress investment.

“Given that neither was on the ballot in 2016, we believe the ultimate choice should be handed back to the public with a People’s Vote,” it added.

In another letter, more than 1,000 nationalists have written to the Taoiseach urging him to defend the rights of Irish citizens north of the border, with the letter published in the Irish News today. 

Signatories include Irish footballer James McClean, actors Adrian Dunbar and Ciaran McMenamin and film director Jim Sheridan. 

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha and Hayley Halpin. 

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