Finalising Brexit deal in November ‘preferable’, says Varadkar
‘A lot’ of work ongoing in Brussels between EU and UK negotiating teams, Taoiseach says
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said an EU summit held by the end of November on a Brexit deal would be “preferable”. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
It would be “preferable” if a final agreement on how Britain will leave the European Union could be finalised this month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
However, he added that the European Council is already scheduled to meet in mid-December and could alternatively sign off on a Brexit withdrawal agreement at that point.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, must be able to declare that there has been “decisive progress” in the talks in order for a special meeting of the European Council to be convened to sign off on a deal.
It was initially hoped that such a summit could take place this month, but a significant breakthrough in the negotiations – primarily UK prime minister Theresa May getting her proposed Brexit deal through the British cabinet – must be reached in the coming days for this to happen.
Speaking in Dublin on Monday, Mr Varadkar said: “Ultimately, what we would like to be in a position to do is to have a special EU council meeting, a special EU summit, before the end of the month, but if that is not possible we do already have one pencilled in on the 13th and 14th of December.”
He added: “It is not that we absolutely have to have one by the end of November. But I think in terms of giving everyone certainty about the future and what Brexit is going to look like, that would be preferable.”
While the November summit would be specially convened to deal with Brexit in November, a routine European Council is already due to take place just before Christmas.
Mr Varadkar said “a lot” of work was ongoing in Brussels at present between the EU and UK negotiating teams.
One of the main stumbling blocks to a deal is understood to be a review mechanism for the backstop, the measure to ensure there is no hard border in Ireland even if future trade talks between the EU and UK fail.
Mrs May has proposed that the UK as whole remain in a temporary customs arrangement with the EU to achieve this aim, although additional customs and regulatory measures will be needed for Northern Ireland.
However, she is under pressure in the UK to outline how Britain could leave the backstop, if its provisions ever came into effect.
While Dublin and Brussels are open to a review of the backstop – which guarantees no return of a hard border in Ireland in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal – they insist the UK cannot unilaterally withdraw from its provisions which must remain in place “unless and until” a future solution is found.
Senior Government figures said any review of the backstop, or on the progress of future trade talks, could be “regular”.
While stressing that the Government remained open to “reasonable” proposals, a review that would take place “every few months” was described as a “bit too frequent”.
“That’s all under negotiation at the moment,” said one well-placed figure.