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Taoiseach tells Theresa May over the phone: 'The latest developments have reinforced the need for a backstop'

Last night Westminster voted for ‘alternative arrangements’ to replace the Irish backstop in the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Leo Varadkar spoke to Theresa May by telephone this afternoon.
Leo Varadkar spoke to Theresa May by telephone this afternoon.
Image: Press Association

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has spoken to UK Prime Minister Theresa May this afternoon. 

The phone call follows the votes in Westminster last night in which MPs voted for “alternative arrangements” to replace the Irish backstop in the Brexit withdrawal agreement. 

During the conversation this afternoon, it is understood Varadkar “set out once again the unchanged Irish and EU position on the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop”.

He noted that the latest developments had “reinforced the need for a backstop which is legally robust and workable in practice”.

The UK prime minister indicated that further consultations are taking place in London.

They agreed to stay in touch over the coming period.

Earlier in the Dáil, Varadkar said the European Union, including Ireland, stands by the withdrawal agreement, including the protocol and backstop relating to Ireland.

This has been reiterated by both the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker and lead EU Breixt negotiator Michel Barnier who have both stated that withdrawal agreement and the backstop are not up for renegotiation.

European Council President Donald Tusk said the same yesterday evening just minutes after the votes took place.

No plans for emergency summit

“That is not on the table and there are no plans to organise an emergency summit to discuss any changes to the guidelines, nor is there any pressure to hold one. The message which came from the European institutions and the European Union yesterday was abundantly clear: the withdrawal agreement is not up for renegotiation and will not be reopened,” said Varadkar.

He added:

It is in the hands of the UK Government and the UK Parliament, at any time, to take away the threat of no deal. They have the authority to do that either by revoking Article 50 or seeking an extension to Article 50. Ireland and the European Union are not threatening no deal. The UK Government and the UK Parliament have it in their authority to take away the threat of no deal at any time they wish to do so.

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Speaking about the Brady amendment, which called for the “alternative arrangements” to the backstop, the Taoiseach said he did not know what these alternative arrangements are.

“We have been down that track before and I do not believe that such alternative arrangements exist and that is why we have the agreement that we have now. The only way we can avoid a hard border, physical infrastructure and checks and controls in the way foreseen in the original December agreement is through full regulatory alignment, to use the language of that December agreement,” he said. 

In relation to the stalemate that continues in Stormont, Varadkar said the Tánaiste has been in touch with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland this week.

“But we need to focus on ratifying the withdrawal agreement and creating some certainty around Brexit,” he said, stating that when that is sorted “there will be a space to re-engage with the parties” in the north. 

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