'Limitations' to assistance EU can offer Theresa May – Varadkar
We can’t have guarantees and assurances that contradict agreed treaty – Taoiseach
Leo Varadkar stressed the EU’s wish to help Mrs May, but added: “That is contingent on her understanding that there are limitations.” Photogaph: John Thys / AFP/Getty Images
Mr Varadkar said that he and other EU leaders wanted to be as helpful as possible to Mrs May in her attempts to get the withdrawal treaty through Westminster, “but there are limitations to that”.
“We can’t get into a situation where we’re contradicting anything that is in the legal text of the treaty that’s been agreed,” he told a press conference after the conclusion of the EU summit in Brussels today.
Mr Varadkar said there was no agreement on what clarifications or declarations or assurances that Mrs May might want, echoing a frustration with the British prime minister evident among other EU leaders over the two-day meeting which was, once again, dominated by Brexit.
Mr Varadkar stressed the EU’s wish to help Mrs May, but added: “That is contingent on her understanding that there are limitations.
“This is a legal agreement, 500 pages, 28 members states signed up to it, including the UK government and we can’t have further guarantees and assurances or explanations that in any way contradict or render inoperable any word of the treaty we have agreed,” he said.
Asked if the summit conclusions agreed on Friday were enough for Mrs May, Mr Varadkar said: “The short answer is I don’t know if it’s going to be enough for Westminster.” But he said many of the EU leaders wanted to know what exactly Mrs May wanted, and then if it would be enough to get the treaty passed.
“We can’t have a situation whereby any negotiating party, and this is true for everyone, can be coming back every couple of weeks following discussions with their parliament looking for something extra, looking for something more. You can’t operate international relations on that basis,” he said.
He declined to say whether the assurances offered by the leaders to the British had any legal effect.
“I suppose you’d have to ask a lawyer that, but certainly the conclusions are serious stuff.
“It’s not a press statement, these are conclusions of a European Summit agreed by leaders.
“We meet four times a year and we produce these conclusions and they carry a lot of weight, so they certainly have depth and meaning.
Asked again about the legal effect of the statements, Mr Varadkar said they were “as good as”.
He said that exiting without a deal was a decision of the UK, but said that faced with a choice between no deal and an extension of article 50, most people would choose the latter.
Mr Varadkar played down suggestions by the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that an emergency budget would be necessary if a no-deal exit happened at the end of March.
“I don’t believe that a mini-budget is necessary,” he said. “We framed the budget with Brexit in mind, bear in mind that the budget provides for a surplus next year, in fact we’ll probably have a surplus this year, certainly a balanced budget, and a surplus next year.
“Very few countries in the EU are going to record a surplus next year. And it provides for a rainy day fund.”
He said that the ESRI analysis showed that even if there is a no-deal, the economy would continue to grow. The ESRI report suggested, he said that “even in a no-deal hard Brexit scenario the economy will continue to grow, but instead of growth by 6 per cent, it will grow by 3 per cent.
“The kind of environment in which mini-budgets or emergency budgets are when you go into a serious recession, not when you have growth of 3 per cent,” Mr Varadkar said.
“So we’re confident we won’t have to have a mini-budget under any circumstances next year, and we’re well prepared for it.”