EU clarifications could help May sell withdrawal deal, says Varadkar

Report says 1,000 police officers will be sent to North in case of no-deal Brexit disorder

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media following the first Cabinet meeting of 2019 at Government Buildings, Dublin, on Thursday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media following the first Cabinet meeting of 2019 at Government Buildings, Dublin, on Thursday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

It would be “helpful” if European Union leaders knew what clarifications they could offer on the Brexit withdrawal agreement that would assist UK prime minister Theresa May pass the deal through the House of Commons, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking after a phone call with German chancellor Angela Merkel, the Taoiseach said they both agreed to stand by the Brexit withdrawal agreement and discussed how to help Mrs May pass the deal in the House of Commons.

Separately, almost 1,000 police officers from England and Scotland are to begin training for deployment in Northern Ireland in case of disorder from a no-deal Brexit, according to a report in The Guardian.

The plans were put in place after Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chiefs asked for reinforcements to deal with any trouble that arises from a hard border. The training for officers from English forces and Police Scotland is expected to begin this month.

The prospect of large numbers of English and Scottish officers being deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland after March 29th could complicate efforts to restore the power-sharing executive at Stormont, which collapsed in 2017.

Reinforcements

The option of reinforcements is deemed necessary to cover the possibility of civil disorder arising from disquiet about Border arrangements that could be put in place after a hard Brexit.

The PSNI request was made under mutual aid arrangements, which are in place to enable local police forces to help each other in times of heightened demands.

On Thursday, Mr Varadkar said while the EU could offer assurances and clarifications to the UK, nothing could “contradict or change” the withdrawal agreement struck in November, including the backstop.

The backstop, the insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland even if there is no future EU-UK trade deal next March, is the main impediment to Mrs May getting the deal passed in Westminster. MPs are due to vote on the deal in the middle of the month.

There have been calls from the United Kingdom for clarifications that the backstop will be temporary, and Mr Varadkar has said it was always only meant to hold “unless and until” a future trade deal that avoids a hard border is in place.

“What would be helpful for us as EU prime ministers and presidents would be to know what clarifications would be enough to secure a majority in the House of Commons but always understanding that clarifications, understandings, guarantees, explanations cannot go against the spirit or render inoperable parts of the withdrawal agreement,” he said.

“We need to know what the United Kingdom parliament wants in terms of those guarantees and those clarifications. This is something we will have to see develop over the next week or two.”

No-deal scenario

Mr Varadkar said he and Ms Merkel spoke for about 40 minutes at the chancellor’s request. They also spoke about planning for a no-deal scenario, which was also discussed by the Cabinet in Dublin on Thursday.

The 45 pieces of legislation needed for a no-deal Brexit outcome will be condensed into four large Bills

At the Cabinet meeting on January 15th, Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Transport Shane Ross will give detailed outlines of planning for the supply of medicines and in the transport sector if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal in March. Other ministers will follow at subsequent meetings.

The Taoiseach said that the 45 pieces of legislation needed for a no-deal Brexit outcome will be condensed into four large Bills. If needed, time would be cleared in the Dáil and Seanad in March for such legislation rather than have both Houses “tied up” in January and February, the Taoiseach said.

On the issue of State aid in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Taoiseach said the Government would largely be asking the EU for “State aid clearance”.

“Us being allowed to use our own money to support companies, businesses and farmers who are adversely affected by Brexit,” he said.

Mr Varadkar will travel to Bavaria on Friday to address the annual gathering of the Christian Social Union, the regional sister party of Ms Merkel’s national Christian Democratic Union.