Taoiseach has ‘every confidence’ in UK commitment to backstop

‘Britain is an important country, a serious country, a great country with great history’

Prime minister Theresa May making a statement in the House of Commons in London on Monday.   Photograp: PA Wire

Prime minister Theresa May making a statement in the House of Commons in London on Monday. Photograp: PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he has “every confidence” the British government will honour its commitment to the Irish Border and the backstop agreement.

“From our point of view, what Ireland is looking for is what we have always been looking for from day one and what has been committed to by us and the UK Government in principle and in writing on a number of occasions now,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

“That is, we have a backstop that gives us an assurance that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland, no matter what happens. That backstop is legally operable and that applies unless and until there is a new agreement.

“That is something that the UK government has committed to in principle, committed to in writing, and I have every confidence that the UK government will honour that commitment.

“Britain is an important country, a serious country, a great country with great history. I don’t think they will want to be moving away from their commitment.”

Mr Varadkar also reacted to comments from the DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson, who branded the Taoiseach “vile” and accused him of using victims of terrorism in order to scaremonger.

Addressing fellow EU leaders in Brussels last week, the Taoiseach displayed a story featured on the cover of The Irish Times of an IRA bomb attack at a customs post in Newry, Co Down in 1972 that left nine people dead.

Mr Varadkar brought a copy of newspaper, which featured an interview with a relative of one of the victims, to the meeting to emphasise the point.

Mr Wilson said the Taoiseach’s behaviour was scraping the bottom of a “very deep barrel of threats, deception and rhetoric”.

Mr Varadkar said on Tuesday concerns he was raising about the possibility of any physical infrastructure on the Border becoming a target had been raised before.

“I think it was a reasonable concern and the point of using the front page of The Irish Times in that discussion with EU leaders was to demonstrate to them that this is something that people are very concerned about on the island of Ireland, concerned enough it is appearing on the front page of our papers,” he said.

Peace on our island

“A lot of the reason why I believe we have peace on our island is because of the European Union, because over a number of decades the EU, through regulatory alignment, swept away a lot of the differences between north and south and that created an environment in which we can have a Good Friday Agreement and I think any change to that environment is a risk for the future and we should be wise to that. I really hope I’m not proven right.”

In the House of Commons on Monday, British prime minister Theresa May called for a UK-wide customs backstop to be made legally binding in the Brexit withdrawal agreement so that it can replace the Northern Ireland-specific backstop proposed by the European Union.

She told MPs that “in a substantial shift in their position since Salzburg”, the EU was now actively working with Britain on its UK-wide backstop proposal.

EU negotiators say a UK-wide customs arrangement cannot be included in the legally binding withdrawal agreement, so a Northern Ireland-only backstop would still be required in that text.

“We must make the commitment to a temporary UK-EU joint customs territory legally binding, so the Northern Ireland-only proposal is no longer needed. This would not only protect relations North-South, but also, vitally, east-west,” Ms May said.

She identified three other steps to resolve the issue, including an option to extend the post-Brexit transition period beyond December 2020 “as an alternative to the backstop”.

She said there must be a mechanism to ensure that Britain could not be kept indefinitely within either arrangement against its will and that Northern Ireland’s businesses must continue to have access to the whole of the UK’s internal market.