Leo Varadkar: EU happy to offer clarifications on Withdrawal Agreement

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meets Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis at Farmleigh House, in Dublin's Phoenix Park PICTURE: PA
By Cate McCurry, Press Association

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says his government and the EU are happy to offer clarifications and assurances on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, to help get the accord over the line.

The taoiseach said the Republic has been "very flexible and very reasonable" in helping the UK government to resolve its problems which, he said, are of their own creation.

His comments come as Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay prepare to return to Brussels today to continue their efforts to secure legally-binding changes to ensure that the UK is not trapped permanently by backstop arrangements designed to keep the Irish border open.

Speaking during a press conference with Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, Mr Varadkar said: "We are entering quite a sensitive phase now over the next week or two as we approach the next round of votes in the House of Commons and the European Council meeting the week after that.

"We are happy to offer further clarifications and further assurances if that can help the UK government get the agreement over the line. But from day one we have been very straight about a few things and among those is Brexit cannot lead, under any circumstances, to the emergence of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

"The backstop is a means to an end, but it's a really important end and that is a legally-binding assurance that there won't be a hard border on the island."

He said the backstop is the mechanism that will avoid a hard border.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said: "There has been no application made for an extension to Article 50 and I don't think it's likely they'll ask for a long extension.

"There may be a need for a technical extension but we need to see how the British parliamentary system responds.

"However if the British parliament wants to avoid electing MEPs to seats in Europe there is an obvious end point at the end of June before they take their seats."

Yesterday, Mr Varadkar and the Lithuanian prime minister met with pupils from Hartstown Community School in Dublin which has the highest number of Lithuanians of any school in Ireland.

There are around 40,000 Lithuanians living and working in the Republic.

Mr Varadkar added: "I am very happy with the corporation bilaterally we have between Lithuania and Ireland, but there's always opportunities to deepen that.

"Among things we talked about was working together on European issues after Brexit, I think Ireland will find common cause with the Baltic states and Nordic countries.

"Among the issues we have a similar view on is the [EU] common agricultural policy [CAP], maintaining funding for that and also making sure that cohesion funding is protected for central eastern Europe."

Mr Skvernelis said: "We also discussed the [Brexit] challenges and we fully support the position of Ireland on Brexit and we support the interests of Ireland.

"I would also like to invite Irish investors to come to Lithuania, we have excellent conditions for businesses.

"Our countries share very good and close relations, we are linked by shared values.

"Ireland used to have the number of its population decreasing at certain points of its history and currently Lithuania is experiencing the same problem, so we also talked about this with the taoiseach and how we could share best practices in trying to increase the number of [our] population."

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