May and Varadkar discuss NI backstop as rumours swirl over Brexit deal

Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, told May in a phonecall on Monday that while he was open to the possibility of the "independent mechanism", he could not allow the United Kingdom to dictate the terms of any backstop.

The Irish government said the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach had discussed a "review mechanism" in which the backstop could be ended by mutual consent.

Therefore in order to get the current iteration of the backstop through cabinet, the PM must persuade ministers that the EU has no intention to trap the United Kingdom in a customs union in perpetuity. The agreement would "not be done at any cost", her official spokesman said.

The Prime Minister said any agreement will be dependent on an "acceptable" framework for future relations in areas like trade and security, expected to be covered in a separate political declaration.

The comments came after Theresa May told the cabinet she would not agree a withdrawal deal with the European Union "at any cost".

"A choice between a no-deal Brexit and a no-clue Brexit is no choice at all".

Brexiteers insist that the United Kingdom must be able to unilaterally end the backstop to avoid the possibility of the European Union keeping Britain bound to its rules forever.

Officials at the attorney general's office and the Brexit department are now drawing up plans for a system by which the United Kingdom could end a temporary customs arrangement with the European Union without Northern Ireland being treated separately.

The backstop is an arrangement that applies if the Irish border can not be kept frictionless during a wider deal.

"This includes ensuring that if the backstop is ever needed it is not permanent, and there is a mechanism to ensure the United Kingdom could not be held in the arrangement indefinitely", he said.

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Speaking in the Irish parliament on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar repeated his red lines.

"There can be no expiry date and there can be no unilateral exit clause, and if it were to be either of those things, the backstop would not be worth the paper it was written on", he said.

Dublin has insisted it would not accept any unilateral United Kingdom ability to end a Brexit backstop agreement on the Irish border. The clock is still ticking and we will continue the work.

At a news conference in Slovakia, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier reiterated Brussels' support for Ireland's position on a backstop arrangement, as he repeated an overall Brexit deal has yet to be reached.

"What is missing is a solution for the issue of Ireland. And a backstop can not have a time-limit".

A senior DUP MP has said the United Kingdom is heading for a no-deal Brexit.

"Such an outcome will have serious consequences for the economy of the Republic".

Donaldson said that he could not understand why the Irish government "seems so intent on this course".

It has so far suggested a backstop that would see the United Kingdom as a whole remaining aligned with the EU customs union, possibly for a limited time.

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