Leo Varadkar says Brexit withdrawal treaty cannot be changed

Leo Varadkar has said the border backstop should not be removed
Staff Reporter

THE substance of the Brexit withdrawal treaty cannot be changed, the taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar said while he and other EU leaders would work to provide assurances to the UK in terms of future relations, there could be no question of removing the border backstop.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil he still believed the agreement would be ratified by Westminster and the European Parliament.

"We have a meeting with the European Council on Thursday and Friday and will have an opportunity to engage with Prime Minister May and an opportunity to speak with my colleagues," he said.

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"I'll be taking a call with President Juncker later on today to see what assurances we can give the United Kingdom parliament that might assist them to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement.

"However, that cannot be a change in the substance of that agreement including the substance of the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. But that is what we are going to work towards."

Responding to Sinn Féin demands for a poll on Irish unity in the context of a no-deal Brexit, Mr Varadkar reiterated his opposition, insisting it was not the time to talk about border polls.

"To inject a constitutional dimension into this debate now is destructive and disruptive because there are people who are arguing against this deal because they believe that having special arrangements around regulations for goods somehow weakens the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain," he said.

"We know that is not the case. There are lots of special arrangements for Northern Ireland already."

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He added: "I don't believe stirring up tensions in Northern Ireland or turning this issue into one of orange versus green is helpful at all at this time."

In heated exchanges, Mr Varadkar told Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald that the party should drop its abstentionist policy at Westminster and take up its seven seats to back the Brexit deal.

He added: "And the second best thing you can do is to bring together the institutions that were established in the Good Friday Agreement".

Mrs McDonald denied turning the issue into a green and orange dispute.

"Considerable efforts and very fruitful efforts have been made to ensure a cross-community and a cross-party support for a consensus in the north that is against Brexit, because Brexit is a British/Tory invention and all of this disruption isn't of our making of anyone in this house, it's the making of the Tories across the water," she said.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said his government is to speed up plans for a no-deal Brexit.

"In terms of moving to implementation of no-deal planning, it will become 'Topic A' across the whole of government and will be the priority of every minister and secretary general," he said.

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