Taoiseach: We cannot soften on Brexit deal

Britain’s difficulties over Brexit cannot result in Ireland softening its position over an agreement and a backstop to prevent a hard border, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Amid continued rows in the British cabinet over a way to resolve the impasse over Brexit, a senior Irish figure in Europe also said December is now the likely time for a deal.

With the clock ticking, this means the likelihood of a special late November summit is fading, which would have given EU leaders an chance to informally agree on a withdrawal deal.

Mr Varadkar said internal political difficulties in the British government can not allow Ireland to soften its stance.

There had been much speculation that British prime minister Theresa May wanted to move her cabinet towards agreement for a UK-wide customs union, instead of just for the North.

It was reported yesterday, though, that a British cabinet meeting has been postponed amid ongoing disagreement.

These difficulties can not pressurise Ireland, Mr Varadkar said.

“I just hope prime minister May is in a position to get any potential agreement through her cabinet and through her parliament,” he said.

“But we really have to stand by our objectives. The difficulties that happen in the United Kingdom can’t allow us in any way to soften our position in my view.”

Furthermore, Mr Varadkar said that a new element arising was the concern that, if Britain remained in a customs union after Brexit, it would somehow not be subject to the same trade rules or standards for goods.

“I have to say I share that concern,” Mr Varadkar told RTÉ.

Meanwhile, EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan warned that if Britain does not come forward with new proposals on the backstop within days then it is unlikely that any special summit will be called to conclude the withdrawal agreement in November.

The former Fine Gael minister added that if he was a betting person, he would not expect a breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations until the December European Council meeting of EU leaders.

Mr Hogan, also at the same European People’s Party meeting in Helsinki, explained: “I think if we don’t get proposals in the next few days it’s unlikely we’ll have a deal in November, so the pressure is on the UK to make those proposals. But I would say if I was a betting person we would have a December council to discuss the final outcome.”

Elsewhere, Tánaiste Simon Coveney also insisted that a deal is not necessarily imminent.

Speaking to the Irish-Canada Business Association in Dublin, Mr Coveney urged caution around suggestions that a deal can be done soon.

The foreign affairs minister said: “An imminent breakthrough is not necessarily to be taken for granted, not by a long shot. People seem to make the same mistake over and over again, assuming that if the British cabinet agrees something, well then that’s it then, everything is agreed.

This is a negotiation and needs to be an agreement, of course between the British government, but also the European and the 27 countries.”

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