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After Brexit amendment, Irish leader to tell May backstop cannot be changed

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Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar in December. Pic: Reuters
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar in December. Pic: Reuters

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar will on Wednesday speak with Theresa May to tell her, once again, that the most contentious aspect of her Brexit deal — the Irish backstop — is not up for renegotiation.

On Monday night, after MPs narrowly passed an amendment that calls for the backstop to be replaced by unspecified “alternative arrangements,” the Irish government swiftly released a statement with a message almost identical to that of the European Union, saying that its position had not changed.

In a statement, the Irish government said: “The EU position on the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, is set out in the conclusions of the December meeting of the European Council. It has not changed.”

“The withdrawal agreement is not open for re-negotiation.”

Varadkar will tell May that, because the UK is not willing to change its Brexit red lines, it will not be possible for the EU to agree to a “significant and legally binding change to the withdrawal agreement” that she desires.

He will reiterate, however, that it may be possible to re-open the other aspect of her Brexit deal, the political declaration.

Though Ireland has long signalled that the backstop, which is designed to prevent a hard border in Ireland, is merely a “means to an end,” it has also said that it’s one of the only things that could be agreed within the parameters that the UK government has set for itself.

And the backstop agreement was also something that had been heavily influenced by UK negotiators, the EU has consistently pointed out.

May will tell the EU on Wednesday that she is seeking one of three options: a time limit for the backstop, a mechanism that could see the UK unilaterally exit from the backstop, or an agreement to implement a technological solution known as “max fac” to minimise border controls.

The EU, however, has already rejected all three options.

Earlier on Tuesday evening, Varadkar had told Irish farmers that Ireland and the EU needed to “hold our nerve.”

“Brexit is the great political challenge of our time,” he said. But he also warned about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and said that his government would seek emergency aid from the EU in such a scenario.

This would be used to mitigate the impact of the sectors of Ireland’s economy most exposed to Brexit impacts, such as the beef, dairy and fishing sectors, he said.

“I cannot offer you the reassurance provided by certainty but I can reassure you that until things are certain we will keep fighting your corner.”

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