Series of votes on Brexit may be needed in UK House of Commons, says Taoiseach

‘Divorce can bring those left behind closer together’, Varadkar says in Bavaria

A series of votes may be needed in the House of Commons to see what type of post Brexit relationship between the EU and UK is acceptable to British MPs, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar said it is still his hope that the Brexit withdrawal agreement is ratified by the House of Commons in a vote later this month, which he said would be the best outcome for Ireland.

However, speaking to journalists at a conference of the Christian Social Union (CSU) he is attending in Bavaria, Germany, Mr Varadkar said that, if the withdrawal agreement is rejected, “we would have to look at what actually gets passed to see if there is a majority for anything”.

“Obviously my preferred outcome and the best outcome for Ireland would be if they ratified the withdrawal agreement vote the week after next but I understand that there may be a series of votes – that speaker [JOHN]Bercow is able to select a certain number of motions – so if it is rejected we would have to look at what actually gets passed to see if there is a majority for anything.”


He said a parliamentary motion passed in Westminster showing a majority in the House of Commons for a certain post-Brexit relationship would send a signal to the EU that the position in London was changing.

“For example, the last time they had a series of votes they voted against forming a customs union which would have been a permanent customs union, not a temporary one, by about three votes.

“Potentially, that vote may go the other way but, like I say, this is all speculation and while it is unclear where exactly the United Kingdom stands, it is absolutely, abundantly clear where Ireland and the European Union stands.”

Political declaration

However, he stressed that any changes would only be to the political declaration, the looser accompanying document to the legally binding withdrawal agreement, which points towards the post-Brexit relationship between the EU and UK.

The backstop – the insurance policy to avoid a hard border if future trade talk between the EU and UK fail – is contained in the withdrawal agreement.

The backstop is the element causing the most difficulty for UK prime minister Theresa May, and is the most contentious issue for many of her Conservative MPs.

“I don’t mean the backstop,” the Taoiseach added. “I mean the future relationship which is the political declaration.

“It’s always been the position of the European Union and it’s there in the guidelines that if the United Kingdom were to change its red lines then we’d be happy to talk to them about that. Bear in mind they decided very early on they weren’t just leaving the European Union.

“They were leaving the Customs Union and the single market and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Obviously if the UK were to turn around and say that they have changed their mind on those issues we wouldn’t say sorry it’s too late.

“I think what we have always said is that if the United Kingdom were to evolve from its red lines the European Union could as well. If they decide they want to stay in the single market or they want to stay in the customs union, in those circumstances I think the European Union would evolve its position as well.” However, he said such a change of mind is unlikely.

‘Traumatic but not fatal’

Earlier on Friday, Mr Varadkar told the conference that Brexit has been traumatic but not fatal for the EU.

“People often say that a divorce can be like a death in the family,” he said. “It can also bring those left behind closer together. The Brexit divorce has at times been traumatic, but it has not proven fatal to the European family.

Speaking on Friday evening the Taoiseach said support for EU membership and the single currency had increased not decreased across the continent.

“In the midst of all the arguing in the search for an agreement, we have found strength and we have found solidarity from each other. We need to take this with us as we deal with other challenges.”

Peace in Ireland was born out of “the European ideal, by communities coming together not growing apart”, he said.

“In many ways, the EU is a Franco-German peace process. In Ireland, the EU was a fundamental pre-condition for our peace process sweeping away borders and differences without threatening anyone’s nationality or loyalties.

“We cannot allow that to falter now. Despite the ever-shifting sands on the trek towards a settled Brexit destination, two things have stayed constant. The first is European support for Irish concerns and safeguarding peace on our island. The second is our understanding of what must be defended.”

He said we are “determined to protect the Good Friday Agreement: peace in Britain and Ireland; power sharing in Northern Ireland, and ever closer co-operation North and South”.

“We are determined to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border on our island.

“At the same time, we want the future relationship between the EU and the UK to be as close, comprehensive and ambitious as possible, provided there is a level playing field and the integrity of our single market is upheld.”

Tribute to Merkel

The CSU is the regional sister party of the Christian Democratic Union, the national party. In his speech, Mr Varadkar also paid tribute to German chancellor Angela Merkel, the outgoing leader of the CDU.

The Taoiseach is due to meet her successor as CDU leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, at the Bavarian event on Saturday.

Aside from Brexit, the Taoiseach said: “To preserve our way of life and advance all our values we need more Europe not less.

“Issues such as climate change, terrorism, cyber-security, illegal migration, international trade, and the regulation of major corporations are transnational. On these we need to think and act together.

“We must stand together or we will fall one by one.”

He also said that migration is one of the biggest challenges facing Europe.

“We need to act, but we cannot risk losing the middle ground. We need to win the argument, or we lose everything. So I believe that we need a degree of burden sharing and the resettlement of migrants within the EU, and I support the new framework agreed late last year based on new principles.”

He said a small number of countries “are shouldering the responsibility of providing refugees with a fresh start in Europe”.

“All of us can and must do more. Ireland has accepted migrants from Greece and our navy is participating in Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean sea.”