Varadkar and Merkel discuss ‘no deal’ Brexit planning in phone call

German chancellor and Taoiseach reiterate support for UK withdrawal deal in 40-minute conversation

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he and German chancellor Angela Merkel  had a long phone conversation at her request. File image: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he and German chancellor Angela Merkel had a long phone conversation at her request. File image: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he and German chancellor Angela Merkel both agreed to stand by the Brexit withdrawal agreement in a phone call on Thursday morning.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said he and Ms Merkel had a long conversation at her request.

“We spoke for about 40 minutes,” he said. “The conversation focused on securing the ratification of the withdrawal agreement which, as you know, will be put to the House of Commons in about two weeks’ time.

“We agreed that we would stand by the agreement we made with the United Kingdom at the end of last year. We are happy to offer reassurance and guarantees to the United Kingdom but not reassurances and guarantees that contradict or change what was agreed back in November. We also discussed ‘no deal’ planning.”

Planning for a “no deal” scenario has also been discussed by the Cabinet in Dublin.

“It was quite a long call, it was an opportunity to kind of brainstorm a bit as to what we could do to assist prime minister May in securing ratification of the withdrawal agreement,” the Taoiseach said.

There have been calls from the United Kingdom for clarifications that the backstop - the insurance policy to avoid a hard border even if there is no future EU-UK trade deal - will be temporary.

Mr Varadkar said the backstop was always only meant to hold “unless and until” a future trade deal that avoided a hard border was in place.

He said it would be “helpful” for other EU leaders to know what kind of assurances would command a majority in the House of Commons.

“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. That would be a renegotiation.”

Anglo-Irish contacts

The Taoiseach said there would be contact between Irish and British Brexit officials on Friday, and he and UK prime minister Theresa May would speak afterwards if required.

Of his conversation with Ms Merkel, the Taoiseach said: “What we both really agreed was this was a problem that was created in London. Brexit was a problem created in the United Kingdom, the inability of the United Kingdom to ratify the withdrawal agreement is a problem in Westminster and we are really looking to them for a solution.

“Those who create a problem must be the ones who have a responsibility to come up with a solution. It is up to them to make a proposal but it has to be a proposal that we can accept. So it can’t be a proposal that contradicts what is already in the withdrawal agreement.

“It can’t be something that renders the backstop inoperable, for example. We want to be in a position to give guarantees, to give assurances. 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. Bear in mind the UK government has approved this agreement. The difficulty is the UK government appears unable, at this point in time, to secure ratification from the House of Commons. That is where the difficulty at the moment lies.”