Theresa May to add text to Irish Brexit deal in effort to solve impasse
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says the substance and meaning of the deal must not be altered
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in Government Buildings in Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times
British prime minister Theresa May is to bring further text to be added to the the Irish Brexit deal within the next 24 hours in an effort to solve the impasse in negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday night he would consider proposals from Ms May but insisted the Irish position remains that the substance and meaning of the deal must not be altered.
Such a new element to the deal would likely be used to assuage the concerns of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who support Ms May’s Conservative government in a confidence and supply deal in Westminster.
Mr Varadkar was speaking after a meeting with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in Government Buildings in Dublin.
Mr Varadkar and Ms May spoke earlier on the phone, and the Taoiseach said he would look at positions proposed by the UK. However, he said that Ms May had not proposed anything yet, and said this work would be mostly be done by UK and EU officials.
“I explained my position to her, she explained her position to me,” Mr Varadkar said. “What I said was that we would be willing to take a look at and consider any proposals that the UK side have.
“While we are willing to consider them, we believe the agreement we had on Monday is one that would work for Ireland. We would have to ensure that any new wording is consistent with that.
“We didn’t discuss the detail of any new language. What we agreed was the prime minister’s negotiating team would make contact with the European Commission taskforce, the negotiating team that is negotiating for Europe, including Ireland, with any proposed new text and we would consider it from there.”
He said no particular words or combination of words were discussed. “I want to move things forward as well.”
On the issue of “regulatory alignment” – the phrase around which the Irish Brexit deal is anchored – Mr Varadkar said this did not mean Northern Ireland and the Republic would have the exact same rules. He said “not everything” would be aligned. “It means regulatory alignment where it applies to North-South co-operation, where it applies to the all-island economy, the kind of things that might give rise to the slow unwinding of what we have now.
“That doesn’t mean rules and regulations on either side of the Border have to identical always, and they are not at the moment.”
He added he feared a lack of “regulatory alignment” would lead to a hard border emerging, not overnight but over a number of years.
It had been intended that the meeting of the European Council on December 14th and 15th would see EU leaders decide if “sufficient progress” has been made in the three key areas of the so-called divorce settlement, citizens’ rights and Irish specific issues to allow the talks proceed to the next phase.
Phase two of the Brexit talks will focus on the transitional arrangements that will kick in after the UK formally leaves the EU in 2019 and the future EU-UK trading relationship. Mr Varadkar said the decision to proceed to the next phase may not be taken until the new year. Ms May and Mr Varadkar spoke by telephone on Wednesday afternoon in an effort to break the impasse in the talks.
The Government continues to insist it will not change the substance of what it says was agreed with the British government on Brexit earlier this week.