Next Commons vote could push UK closer to EU, Varadkar suggests

DUP describes Theresa May’s failure to secure new EU concessions as ‘inexcusable’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gives a press conference at the end of an EU summit focused on Brexit in Brussels on Friday.  Photograph: Aris Oikonomou/AFP/Getty Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gives a press conference at the end of an EU summit focused on Brexit in Brussels on Friday. Photograph: Aris Oikonomou/AFP/Getty Images

 

The House of Commons may insist on a closer relationship with the EU rather than a no-deal if MPs again vote to reject the withdrawal agreement next week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has suggested at the conclusion of the EU summit in Brussels this afternoon.

“I hope the withdrawal agreement will be ratified by the House of Commons,” Mr Varadkar told a press conference.

“If it isn’t I imagine they’ll go onto indicative votes and that may point the way to a closer long term relationship.

“But Brexit is uncharted territory. I’ve almost given up speculating on what’s going to happen next.”

Mr Varadkar was speaking before departing the two-day summit in Brussels which say EU leaders set a new date for Brexit, moving the original date from March 29th - this day week - to either April 12th or May 22th, depending on whether Mrs May can secure passage of the withdrawal treaty through the house of Commons in another vote expected next week.

If MPs again reject the deal, the UK will either leave on April 12th, or propose a new closer relationship with the EU which would require the UK to take part in the elections to the European Parliament.

In a statement responding to Friday’s events, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said Mrs May had missed an opportunity to put forward proposals to EU leaders to improve the prospects of an acceptable deal, describing it as a “disappointing and inexcusable” failure.

“Lectures by the Prime Minister putting the blame on others cannot disguise the responsibility her government bears for the current debacle and the fact that her agreement has been twice overwhelmingly rejected,” he said.

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Asked what was his assessment of the chances of Mrs May passing deal, Mr Varadkar said: “I honestly don’t know. Prime minister May believes that there is a pathway to victory and to get a majority in the House of Commons and I hope she can achieve that. But I really wouldn’t be in a better position than she is to assess the parliamentary arithmetic that exists in the United Kingdom and it’s very much a matter for the British parliament.”

Asked if he would be in contact with the DUP, whose support is crucial to Mrs May’s chances of securing a Commons majority, Mr Varadkar said he had met with the DUP leader Arlene Foster in Washington last week.

“She gave me a clear indication of the kind of things they would be looking for from the UK government and those discussions are ongoing,”

The Taoiseach also confirmed the DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson would be attending the Fine Gael conference in Wexford this weekend.

Mr Donaldson will join the leader of the Alliance Party Naomi Long, Claire Hanna of the SDLP and Tánaiste Simon Coveney for a panel discussion on Saturday on the re-establishment of the Stormont executive.

They will also discuss “the importance of the North-South ministerial councils”, according to the programme.

They will also talk about fostering “north-south relations to the benefit of all who live on this island and a peaceful, prosperous future.”

The discussion will take place during the Fine Gael national conference which takes place in Wexford on Friday night and throughout Saturday.

Mr Varadkar will make an address on Saturday evening.

Speaking at the Fine Gael conference on Friday evening, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said there would need to be regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic to keep the Border open even if there was no Brexit deal.

“Whether there is a deal or no-deal, the way will resolve these issues will involve some form of regulatory alignment. Even in the British paper which was published, which we didn’t have any input into, they’re effectively talking about the all-island economy not being interrupted by any form of checks.”

Mr Coveney refused to engage with suggestions that an EU task force could be set up to deal with the Border in the event of a no deal Brexit.

When asked if there was any frustration at EU level with Ireland, Mr Coveney said: “First of all, I don’t accept your assumption that there is clearly a frustration with Ireland. There isn’t actually. There is an understanding across the EU that the Border question is a very emotive and very political question on this island.

“That is why we have had so much solidarity and support from across the EU for solutions to that question.” - Additional reporting Reuters

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