Brexit backstop is non-negotiable says Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned that it was impossible to reopen any aspect of the withdrawal deal. Picture by Michelle Devane/PA Wire

LEO Varadkar responded to the deferment of Westminster's meaningful vote on Theresa May's EU withdrawal agreement by ruling out a reopening of negotiations on the backstop.

The British prime minister plans to travel to Brussels this week to seek concessions on the Brexit deal, after calling off today's scheduled vote by MPs amid concern she would suffer a heavy defeat.

But the taoiseach warned that it was impossible to reopen any individual aspect of the withdrawal deal, describing it as the "only agreement on the table".

"It took over a year-and-a-half to negotiate and has the support of 28 governments and it's not possible to reopen any aspect of that agreement without reopening all aspects of it," he said.

Mr Varadkar said he had spoken to the Tory leader and she had updated him on efforts to get the withdrawal agreement ratified at Westminster.

He said the EU had made a lot of concessions through the negotiation process including the recent review clause.

"We should never forget how we got to this point - the UK decided to leave the EU and the UK government decided to take lots of options off the table, whether it was staying in the single market and the customs union or the Northern Ireland specific backstop," he said.

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Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit representative, tweeted: "I can't follow any more. After two years of negotiations, the Tory government wants to delay the vote.

"Just keep in mind that we will never let the Irish down. This delay will further aggravate the uncertainty for people and businesses. It's time they make up their mind."

Fresh from a phone call with Mrs May, DUP leader Arlene Foster said the backstop needed to go.

Arlene Foster said the backstop needed to go. Picture by Hugh Russell

She said the vote's deferment summed up the British government's "chaotic" approach to the negotiations, with the prime minister having been warned her deal would not work.

"The fundamentally flawed withdrawal agreement would have undermined our United Kingdom economy and the union itself," she said.

"The backstop would have left Northern Ireland trapped as a hostage to the European Union."

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said Brexit was a shambles.

"Theresa May and the British parliament are deluding themselves if they think that Irish interests will simply be cast aside to facilitate the fantasy Brexit they are pursuing," she said.

"The Irish government and the EU need to stand by their commitments and defend Irish interests; there can be no hard border, no diminution of our rights and protection for the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Westminster MPs regarded the backstop as a problem "when it is our solution".

He said Europe and the Irish government would not renegotiate the backstop.

"Whether it is Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson or any other future British prime minister, they need to come to terms with the fact that there will be no deal without a backstop," he said.

"The sooner politicians in Westminster understand this fact, the sooner we can have some certainty."

Alliance leader Naomi Long also said the backstop was essential if Brexit was to happen.

However, she said the best option was a fresh referendum.

"Let the public decide whether they want to vote for the reality of Brexit – a deal worse than we have now, a future poorer than we are now, or whether they want to stop this act of national self-harm and rescind Article 50," she said.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the British government had "driven itself into a cul de sac" and restated his party's opposition to the backstop.

"The prime minister should stand up and be uncompromising in her role as a defender of the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom," he said.

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