Taoiseach welcomes breakthrough in Brexit talks

Deal preserves goal of avoiding hard border, though details of backstop review still unclear

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar:  Told the Dáil that Britain remaining closely aligned with EU customs arrangements will benefit Irish businesses. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: Told the Dáil that Britain remaining closely aligned with EU customs arrangements will benefit Irish businesses. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The Cabinet will meet on Wednesday morning to discuss developments on a Brexit deal, Government Buildings said on Tuesday night in a short statement.

The statement was issued in response to the news that Britain and the EU had reached a deal on a draft Brexit withdrawal agreement, including a mechanism to guarantee that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland.

The Government was tight-lipped beyond that, declining to say whether it has seen the text of the agreement, though it is understood it was discussed on Tuesday night by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Minister for Europe Helen McEntee and senior officials.

Sources said that Dublin wished to avoid saying anything that would make British prime minister Theresa May’s task with her cabinet any more difficult, especially with significant Northern Ireland-only elements thought to be included in the deal. But privately the Government is pleased with the outcome as it preserves the goal of avoiding a hard border in all eventualities, and Dublin will say that the text is consistent with the December agreement of last year.

Uncertainty

However, there was uncertainty about the review process in the agreement, under which the UK would exit from the backstop.

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As first reported by The Irish Times last week, the backstop will apply to the entire United Kingdom and see Britain remain in a customs union with the EU if no solutions to avoid a hard border are found.

However, the withdrawal agreement will have additional measures for Northern Ireland to ensure there is no hard border.

Earlier in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said Britain remaining closely aligned with EU customs arrangements will benefit Irish businesses.

He was speaking before news of the breakthrough in the Brexit talks became public, though he would have been fully aware of the contents of the deal.

Responding to questions from Micheál Martin, Mr Varadkar said the Fianna Fáil leader was “correct” to say “that the UK staying in a customs union for a time or staying in a temporary customs arrangement would be beneficial for Ireland because of the benefits of frictionless trade east-west between Britain and Ireland, which is very important for the agrifood sector, our small and medium enterprises and also for Northern Ireland”.

However, the Taoiseach declined to go into detail on a review of the backstop expected to be included in the withdrawal agreement. After news of a potential deal emerged on Tuesday night, Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said the detail of the final deal needs to be examined.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said any agreement needed to ensure there was “a permanent backstop to protect a borderless Ireland”.