Agreeing backstop deal a matter of trust, says Varadkar

Ireland’s premier has said that the key issue of agreeing the backstop deal is not only an issue of substance, but “an issue of trust”.

Leo Varadkar reiterated Ireland’s position on the backstop, which he said must be legally operable and would prevent a hard border emerging between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The Taoiseach was speaking ahead of a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May in Brussels.

Both leaders spoke by telephone earlier this week, however there were no indications they are closer to resolving the outstanding Irish border issue.

Mr Varadkar said that he welcomes fresh thinking, but added that “time is running out”.

“We have always been abundantly clear about what our objectives are and they have been the same since the referendum happened, and that is that there should be a withdrawal agreement that allows us for an orderly exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union,” he added.

The Taoiseach travelled to Brussels on Wednesday ahead of a working dinner with the leaders of EU 27 in which they will discuss the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

Speaking about the Irish border issue, Mr Varadkar added: “We can’t have an expiry date, it can only be temporary unless and until we have an alternative agreement that also ensures us that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland.

“That’s what we agreed in writing with the European Union and the United Kingdom back in March so this is not just an issue of substance, it’s also an issue of trust.”

He also signalled his support for extending the UK’s Brexit transition period, saying that he welcomed any proposal that would help bring about a solution.

Following reports that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier was open to pushing the implementation period back to end in December 2021, Mr Varadkar said that negotiating a new economic and security relationship between the EU and the UK within two years would be a “real challenge”.

“Certainly we’re willing to listen to any proposals that might help to bring us to a solution.

“I really need to say though that any extension to the transition period couldn’t be a substitute to the backstop, it would still need to have that.

“And perhaps that would give people greater confidence that it would never need to be invoked.”

Last week, Ireland’s opposition leader Micheal Martin wrote to Mr Varadkar suggesting they commit to maintaining the government in the current form until a Brexit deal is ratified.

He wants his party Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to commit to no election before Brexit is ratified by Westminster on January 21.

Mr Varadkar, however, said he had a “difficulty” with the suggestion, adding that no Irish government should “ever fall on the basis of a vote that happens in the British parliament” or any foreign parliament.

“I think that could potentially play into the hands of hardline Brexiteers or people that would oppose a deal that Prime Minister May might put to parliament,” he added.

“Imagine a situation whereby those opposing a deal would be able to say, as a result of a vote in the House of Commons, not only would that deal be defeated, it would also bring down the Irish Government, so I’m not sure if Deputy Martin really thought that through.

“I’m sure his intentions were very decent, but he probably didn’t think that through strategically.”

He denied he was planning an election, adding that he has already set out his position to Mr Martin.

“I’ve put forward my suggestion to Fianna Fail on August 31 that we agree that there be no election until the summer of 2020, and I set out in detail what I believe the Government could achieve for the people of Ireland between now and then,” he said.