Varadkar says Brexit deal contains key Irish backstop demands

Taoiseach says unionists may be feeling vulnerable, isolated and worried

Speaking in the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that it is his understanding that a draft Brexit agreement will protect the Good Friday Agreement. Video: Oireachtas TV

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The Belfast Agreement will not be “negatively impacted” by the Brexit agreement reached by the British cabinet, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil.

“My reading is that the Good Friday Agreement is not negatively impacted,” he went on, emphasising that this included the recognition in the Republic that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.

“I know that for the unionist community this is quite a difficult time, and may be feeling vulnerable, isolated and quite worried about what may be agreed.”

He said the draft agreement between the EU and the UK contained the essential aspects of the backstop that the Government has always wanted.

The agreement will see the entire UK remaining in the customs union, but it will include additional measures for Northern Ireland to ensure there is no hard border.

“[The backstop] does have to be there, it does have to be legally operable, it can’t have an expiry date, it can’t be possible for one side to withdraw from it unilaterally,” Mr Varadkar said.

“It is our intention that the backstop should never have to be invoked and if it is invoked it should be temporary,” he said, adding that Dublin insists that it be operable “unless and until” it was replaced with something better.

If accepted by the House of Commons, the agreement would be an international treaty between the EU, including Ireland, and the UK, applying even if there is “a change of government in Ireland or the UK”.

“The text will have to be ratified by Westminster and European parliament. While not legally necessary, it is my strong view that the text should be put to a vote in Dáil Éireann.”

‘Fantasy land’

Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty hit out at the DUP who he said was “living in a fantasy land” on Brexit. It did not know what was in it but was against it and this was “absolutely reckless”.

Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary said this document was “as important to the island of Ireland as it is to the UK and as it is for the EU”.

It was a “seminal one in the history of this island, and this Oireachtas should have the power and capability to scrutinise it”.

The Cabinet meeting followed a meeting on Tuesday night between Mr Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee.

However, the Government was silent for hours on the content of the deal, fearing that Dublin commentary could have complicated matters for the British prime minister.

Mr Varadkar said he remembered when the “German parliament saw our budget before our parliament did, and that has to work both ways”.

He did not want to be putting in the public domain documents that other parliaments had not seen.

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