Many no-deal plans to be stood down if deal approved, Varadkar says
Dodds rejects Taoiseach’s move to reassure unionists on North’s status
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives for the second day of a two-day summit of European Union leaders in Brussels on Friday. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The Taoiseach moved to reassure unionists about the constitutional implications of the new Brexit deal, telling journalists at the conclusion of the European Union summit in Brussels that “people will still post letters in Royal Mail red letterboxes”.
However, his overtures were rejected by the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who said Mr Varadkar was “either very ill-informed or else just wishes to be offensive”.
Mr Varadkar said: “The queen will still be the queen, the pound will still be the pound , people will still post letters in Royal Mail red letterboxes.
“Northern Ireland will still be part of the United Kingdom and because of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement that is protected until such a time, should that time ever arise, when the majority of the people in Northern Ireland vote otherwise,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said that there were already differences between the North and the rest of the UK, which did not affect its constitutional position.
“It’s been the case for 100 years now that Northern Ireland has its own legal system, has a different education system, has lots of different laws, lots of different rules from the rest of the UK,” he said.
“And that’s a reflection of devolution and autonomy and doesn’t change the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.”
Mr Varadkar also said many of the Government’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit would be stood down if the House of Commons votes to approve the new agreement on Saturday.
“If the House of Commons does vote yes on the indicative vote on Saturday, that will put us in a position to stand down no-deal preparations,” he said.
“But we won’t stop them entirely. Because there is always an outside chance of something going wrong over the next couple of weeks. Because as I understand it, what’s required as well is legislation, the withdrawal Act, as well as an indicative vote.”
Mr Varadkar said he was “confident” that Stormont would not vote to leave the special arrangements agreed in the new deal and precipitate a hardening of the Border.
“If there is a risk we are taking, the risk we are taking is one on democracy and saying to the people of Northern Ireland that you determine your future and that is something I can stand over,” he said.
Mr Varadkar also said that it had “crossed my mind” that he might be put under pressure by EU leaders to compromise on the backstop but he said he learned “this was a concern that we did not need to have”.
Mr Varadkar also warned that MPs should not assume there would be an extension if they vote to reject the deal today.
While Ireland would be favourable towards any request for a further extension, Mr Varadkar said: “Our point of view has always been that we would be open to it, but it would be a mistake to assume that it’s a guarantee, given that it requires unanimity by all 27 member states.”
He said the revised withdrawal agreement was unlikely to be revisited further, and the choice was between this agreement and no deal.
“Plan B is no deal, and we’re all preparing for that, and we’ve all been preparing for that since the referendum, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” he said.