Leo Varadkar discussing no-deal Brexit with EU leaders in Brussels

PA

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has arrived in Brussels for talks with EU leaders to discuss preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Varadkar has a series of engagements lined up with senior representatives including EU Council president Donald Tusk and EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday.

He is also due to meet with the chair of the European Parliament steering group on Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt, EU Commissioner Phil Hogan and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

The leaders will discuss the detailed contingency planning under way in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is due to travel to the Belgian capital on Thursday to meet EU leaders for the first time since the Withdrawal Agreement was overwhelmingly rejected in the House of Commons.

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It also comes a week after MPs voted for Mrs May to replace the Irish backstop with alternative arrangements.

In a speech in Belfast on Tuesday, Mrs May restated her “unshakeable” commitment to avoiding a hard border in Ireland after Brexit.

She has scheduled meetings with all five of the main parties at Stormont House on Wednesday.

Speaking before he left Ireland, Mr Varadkar said he would be thanking the EU leaders for their “unwavering solidarity” with the country and their ongoing support for the backstop.

He reiterated the Withdrawal Agreement is the best way to ensure an orderly exit from the EU, adding that he wants the future relationship between the EU and the UK to be as close as possible so the backstop is never needed.

But he said given the ongoing uncertainty in London, the Irish Government is intensifying its planning for all scenarios, including a no-deal exit.

Detailed contingency planning is under way at both domestic and EU level to explore what supports might be needed.