Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will today begin a tour of three European capitals to discuss Brexit and other issues, amid signs of continuing division between London, Brussels and Dublin on preparations for a possible no-deal Brexit next year.
Mr Varadkar will visit the Croatian capital Zagreb today for meetings with Croatia's president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and prime minister Andrej Plenkovic, before travelling on to Romania tomorrow.
In Bucharest, Mr Varadkar will meet with president Klaus Iohannis and prime minister Viorica Dãncilã.
On Wednesday, Mr Varadkar will travel on to Italy, where he will visit the Venice Biennale, before a meeting in Rome on Thursday with the new Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte.
The Department of the Taoiseach said Mr Varadkar would use the meetings to develop trade and cultural relations with all three countries, but it is the exchanges on Brexit that will be most closely watched.
It is expected that talks between the European Commission Brexit negotiating team, led by Michel Barnier, and the British government, led by new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, will resume in Brussels this week, but the European Commission could not confirm any details last night.
Mr Raab criticised the commission yesterday for issuing a warning to member states to prepare for all Brexit eventualities, including a no-deal Brexit, saying it was “irresponsible”. Separately, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Raab said that if Britain exits the EU without an agreement, it will not pay the EU the €50 billion divorce bill previously agreed.
Progress on backstop
In Dublin, Government sources said they expected engagement on Irish issues this week, with a possible new legal text to give effect to the political agreement on the backstop reached last December.
The backstop deal stated that in the absence of another solution for the post-Brexit Border, Northern Ireland would effectively remain within the EU customs union.
Since December, the UK has rejected a draft EU text on the backstop, while the EU has rejected British proposals to allow all of the UK access to the single market for a time-limited period after it exits the bloc.
Both Dublin and Brussels have said that without an agreement on the backstop, a treaty on the UK’s withdrawal cannot be concluded. If there is no withdrawal treaty, the UK will leave the EU next March, without a transition period, throwing all trade and operational relations into confusion.
Most of the elements of the withdrawal treaty have already been agreed, but the Irish Border – and specifically the requirement for a guarantee of no hard Border in Ireland in the event that no EU-UK trade agreement is reached in the future – remains a barrier to finalising the accord.