Leo Varadkar ‘confident’ agreement will be reached on Brexit delay
Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said he is confident an agreement on extending the Brexit deadline will be reached at a crunch EU summit.
The Taoiseach will fly to Brussels on Wednesday where EU leaders will discuss Theresa May’s request to delay Brexit.
It comes as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said Brussels could amend the Political Declaration on future relations with the UK “within a few hours or days” to incorporate the customs union arrangement being discussed in cross-party talks between the Government and Labour.
Speaking in the Irish parliament, Mr Varadkar said: “I sincerely hope that it will be possible to build sufficient consensus in Westminster to enable ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement and an orderly Brexit thereafter.
“From Ireland’s perspective, we are open to extending the deadline to allow time for these discussions to run their course and come to a conclusion.
“Above all, we want the Withdrawal Agreement to be ratified so that negotiations can begin on a future relationship, we, I hope and expect, can be a new economic partnership between the UK and the EU that is as close as can be achieved.
“All this will be discussed at the European Council tomorrow.
“There will be different views, but I am confident that we will reach agreement there.
“However, given the ongoing uncertainty in London, we need to continue our preparations for a no-deal.”
Mrs May has asked for the date of Brexit to be delayed until June 30, with the possibility of an earlier departure if the UK’s withdrawal deal is ratified.
Mr Varadkar described Mrs May’s letter to European Council President Donald Tusk as a “positive step”.
He added: “It offers welcome assurances that the UK will prepare for the European Parliament elections and will hold them, if the UK has not left the EU by 22 May.
“Importantly, from our perspective, the Prime Minister acknowledges that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be changed, and that any solution must respect that Agreement in its entirety.
“The EU has always stated that the Withdrawal Agreement, which includes the backstop, cannot be re-negotiated.
“It is the outcome of almost two years of difficult negotiations between the EU and Ireland and the UK.
“It represents a finely balanced compromise, including the challenge of the UK leaving the EU without giving rise to the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.”
He added that his ambition is to have a “deep” future relationship with the UK so that the backstop is never needed.
“However, until this happens, it is needed as an insurance policy to protect the Good Friday Agreement and ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland,” he continued.
“It has been obvious for some time that the solution to the deadlock lies in London and that the impasse there could only be resolved in Westminster.
“It is very welcome that cross-party talks are now under way and that the focus of these is on the shape of the future relationship.”