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Crunch talks for Varadkar and May in Dublin today as both sides refuse to back down on backstop

The Taoiseach and Prime Minister are having dinner in Dublin tonight, with one topic atop their agenda.

Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

UK PRIME MINISTER Theresa May will arrive in Dublin today, for talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as she continues to try to seek concessions on the Irish backstop.

It comes after both leaders held talks in Brussels earlier in the week, with both Ireland and the EU refusing to entertain dropping the backstop from the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

This backstop that would ensure no hard border in Ireland was agreed in the withdrawal agreement between May’s government and the EU before Christmas, but that was voted down heavily in the House of Commons last month.

Since then, May has changed tack and, with the support of her party, has gone back to try to convince Brussels and Dublin to drop the requirement of the backstop. 

All this has heightened the threat of a no-deal Brexit, with the UK’s set leaving date from the EU of 29 March now looming large on the horizon. 

Varadkar will meet May this evening, where they will both have dinner together. 

“It’s an opportunity as well to discuss the situation and work together to chart a way forward,” he said.

Varadkar added that the UK can request a Brexit extension, but speaking about the backstop issue, he said alternative arrangements for the Irish border can be explored but this cannot result in the deletion of the backstop.

Dominating reports around the talks this week were the remarks made by European Council president Donald Tusk on Wednesday, when he said that there’s a “special place in hell” for those who pushed for Brexit without a plan.

“I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely,” Tusk said.

Speaking yesterday, Minister for Foreign Affairs described Tusk’s comments as “a little provocative” but said they were borne of frustration.

“I think it’s a reflection on the EU side that with little more than 50 days to go before Britain leaves the European Union, that we still don’t have a clear plan coming from the British government in terms of what they want,” Coveney told Bloomberg.

And so I think what Donald Tusk said this week, while a little provocative, I think reflects a frustration across the EU that, look we want to do a deal here…. we spent two years negotiating with the UK. 

Corbyn talks

Back in the UK, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has written to May to outline changes to her deal that would be needed for his party to support it. 

Corbyn reluctantly met with May last week after parliament voted to reject her Withdrawal Agreement. 

In the letter, which Corbyn has published, the Labour leader said changes to May’s “red lines” were needed. Among them that the UK must enter into a customs union with the EU.

“We recognise that your priority is now to seek legally binding changes to the backstop arrangements contained within the withdrawal agreement, as we discussed when we met,” Corbyn writes.

However, without changes to your negotiating red lines, we do not believe that simply seeking modifications to the existing backstop terms is a credible or sufficient response either to the scale of your defeat last month in parliament, or the need for a deal with the EU that can bring the country together and protect jobs.
- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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Sean Murray

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