EU leaders set for November 25 summit if UK Cabinet backs deal – Taoiseach

An emergency summit of European leaders will likely convene on November 25 to consider the draft Brexit deal if the UK government backs the proposed text, the Taoiseach has said.

Addressing the Dail parliament in Dublin, Leo Varadkar said the European Council would meet in Brussels to potentially sign off on the 500 page document if Theresa May can secure Cabinet approval in the interim.

“Back in December when the joint report – the agreement between the EU and UK – was issued, I said the next step was to turn that joint report that we agreed back in December into a legally binding and legally operable withdrawal agreement and we are close to that point today,” he said.

Brexit
Brexit

“But it is still a draft agreement. It is yet to be agreed by the UK Government and they will discuss it this afternoon and it is yet to be agreed by the European Council and we may be in a position to have an emergency European Council meeting before the end of the month to do exactly that.”

Mr Varadkar fielded questions in the Dail after briefing ministerial colleagues on the draft text in an emergency Cabinet meeting at Government Buildings on Wednesday morning.

He told TDs inside Leinster House: “Should the UK Cabinet be in the position this afternoon to say it’s content with the text, it is proposed that the Commission Taskforce would be in a position perhaps tonight to publish the text with the possibility or probability of an EU council meeting around the 25th of November.”

Mr Varadkar said he did not want to speak publicly on the fine detail of the draft agreement, stressing that the process was at a very sensitive stage.

“We do have a very important and very sensitive Cabinet meeting that will happen in London starting at 2pm today and I don’t want to say anything here today that might up-end that Cabinet meeting or make things any more difficult than they are already for the Prime Minister,” he said.

The Irish premier said he was confident the suggested deal would not negatively impact on the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord – an agreement that had a strong emphasis on cross-border co-operation and linkages.

“My reading is the Good Friday Agreement is not negatively impacted by this,” the Taoiseach said.

“In fact it is protected by the draft agreement.”

On the contentious “backstop” proposal – that would guarantee a free flowing Irish border even if a broader UK/EU trade deal failed to materialise – Mr Varadkar insisted it could not have an “expiry date”.

“It is a fall-back, it’s an insurance policy,” he said.

Mr Varadkar added: “The backstop does have to be there. It does have to be legally operable, it can’t have an expiry date and it can’t be possible for any one side to withdraw from it unilaterally.

“But it is important to appreciate that it is our intention that the backstop should never be invoked and that if it is invoked it should only be temporary until such a time that a new agreement is in place to supersede all or part of it.

“But it must apply unless or until that is the case.”

Mr Varadkar said he recognised it was a “difficult time” for the unionist community in Northern Ireland.

“I know that for the unionist community in Northern Ireland at the moment that this quite a difficult time, I know many of them may be feeling vulnerable, many of them may be feeling isolated and many of them may be quite worried about what may be agreed in the coming days,” he said.

“I want to say to them that the Good Friday Agreement will be protected and that includes a recognition that we respect the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom and that we respect the principle of consent that there can be no change of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland unless a majority of people in Northern Ireland say so.

“We’re very happy to have that written into any agreement giving them that legal guarantee.”

Mr Varadkar stressed that the draft agreement would also have to be ratified by Westminster and the European Parliament. The Taoiseach said, while not necessary, it was his view that the text should also be put to a vote in the Irish parliament.

He said the Irish Government planned to brief all the opposition party leaders and their teams on Wednesday evening if his administration was in a position to publish the text.

Mr Varadkar said his government had arranged to have a briefing with Northern Ireland parties on Thursday morning.