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Varadkar casts doubt on ‘alternative arrangements’ plan for Irish border

Leo Varadkar warned he could not easily accept the deletion of the backstop insurance mechanism.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the backstop is needed (Liam McBurney/PA Wire)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the backstop is needed (Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

The Republic of Ireland cannot accept alternative arrangements to checks on the border as a replacement for the backstop, the country’s premier has said.

Leo Varadkar said he could not accept the deletion of the backstop insurance mechanism from the Withdrawal Agreement unless it had been demonstrated how such arrangements would work in practice to ensure there are no customs checks on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland .

A new body of experts has been set up in the UK to look at potential alternative arrangements.

Many Brexiteers believe technological solutions could replace the backstop. But Mr Varadkar said he could not see evidence of arrangements being outlined before the October 31 deadline for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

If there is a no-deal Brexit at the end of October, Ireland will be under an obligation to protect the single market. Leo Varadkar

The Taoiseach made the remarks at the end of an EU summit in Brussels as European Council president Donald Tusk said Brexit would become “more exciting” than before with a change of British prime minister but that the EU’s position had not changed.

Mr Varadkar said: “We can’t accept that alternative arrangements are an alternative to a backstop unless we can see what these alternative arrangements are, know how they would work and see them demonstrated.

“That hasn’t been done yet and I don’t see that being done this side of October 31 which is why we certainly can’t accept the deletion of the backstop.”

He added: “For us, a deal without a backstop is effectively no deal because it means that there is no legal guarantee we won’t have a hard border, there is no operable mechanism by which we can avoid a hard border, it would just be a case of trying to pull it off, which I don’t think really is much of a solution.”

Mr Varadkar said EU leaders had reaffirmed that the Withdrawal Agreement was not open for renegotiation and they agreed that negotiations would only take place between the UK and the EU.

But he said the Irish government would have an “obligation” to protect the single market in the event of a no-deal outcome.

“If there is a no-deal Brexit at the end of October, Ireland will be under an obligation to protect the single market, it’s our single market, our economy and our jobs are dependent on it,” he said.

“We will have to make sure that Ireland doesn’t become the back door to the European single market.”

He added that the only way he could see of being sure of avoiding a hard border was through regulatory alignment.

Asked about the Tory leadership race, Mr Varadkar highlighted that both of the candidates, who remain in the running to become prime minister, had voted for the Withdrawal Agreement.

He said he looked forward to holding a meeting with the new prime minister and discussing potential changes to the Political Declaration.

But he reiterated that there would be “no implementation period for the UK if there is no Withdrawal Agreement and there will be no Withdrawal Agreement if there’s no backstop”.

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