Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach warns Corbyn that only big change could reopen Brexit deal

Leo Varadkar warned Jeremy Corbyn that there would have to be a fundamental change to UK red lines.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcoming Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to the Government Buildings in Dublin (Merrion Street/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcoming Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to the Government Buildings in Dublin (Merrion Street/PA)

The UK cannot continue to be granted rolling Brexit extensions unless there is a general election or a second referendum in the pipeline, the Irish premier has warned the UK Labour leader.

Leo Varadkar told Jeremy Corbyn that the Withdrawal Agreement was “closed” and could only be altered if there was a fundamental change to UK red lines.

The Taoiseach and Mr Corbyn met at Government Buildings in Dublin on Thursday morning.

Mr Corbyn also held a meeting with Irish president Michael D Higgins at Aras an Uachtarain during his visit to the Irish capital.

It comes as pressure mounts on Mr Corbyn to back a second referendum on Brexit.

The Labour leader said on Wednesday that an election or referendum would be the “only way out” of the Brexit crisis.

He also said that he would seek to renegotiate Brexit to get a better deal for the UK that avoided a no-deal outcome.

After the meeting the Taoiseach told the an Irish parliamentary committee: “I very much imparted that message as politely that I could that the chances of a further extension are pretty slim and the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Irish protocol and the backstop, is closed from our point of view.”

Mr Varadkar said the “only way” that the Withdrawal Agreement could change would be if there was a “fundamental change in red lines from the next UK prime minister or the next UK government” such as a decision to stay in the customs union or the single market.

“There is a hardening view across the European Union that we cannot continue to have rolling extensions,” he added.

“While there could potentially be a further extension if there was an election, in order to allow that election to happen, or if there was a second referendum, I don’t think it’s viable to believe that there would be sufficient support or unanimous support… for a further extension while the UK continues to figure it out or for another set of indicative votes,” he said.

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Mr Corbyn leaving Government Buildings in Dublin following a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)

The meeting lasted an hour and a half and a spokesman for Mr Varadkar said the pair shared their “serious concerns” about a no-deal scenario and its “inherent dangers, including the possibility that the UK may end up in a no-deal situation by default unless alternatives are pursued”.

They also focused mainly on the need to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland and the importance of ongoing engagement with all political parties in the region.

The importance of avoiding any return of a hard border on the island of Ireland was also discussed.

Mr Corbyn was shielded from the media on his way into Government Buildings and there were no media opportunities afterwards.

A spokesman for Mr Higgins said the president and the Labour leader had known each other for decades, adding: “The president and Mr Corbyn had a lengthy and comprehensive meeting at which they discussed a range of current issues including Irish-UK relations, Brexit, the future of the European Union and Northern Ireland.”

On his arrival in Dublin on Wednesday, Mr Corbyn met the Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary Patricia King to discuss issues facing workers north and south of the border in light of Brexit.

He told reporters he would seek to renegotiate Brexit to get a better deal for the UK that avoided a no-deal outcome, despite the EU being clear that the Withdrawal Agreement was not open for renegotiation.

Asked if a second referendum is the only option for the UK, the Labour leader said: “The referendum would be on a negotiated deal or alternatives to that. It’s not a rerun of 2016.”

Mr Corbyn also met Irish Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin on Wednesday evening.

The Irish Labour Party tweeted: “They discussed Brexit, the impact of the upcoming Tory leadership election on both of our countries and how we can avoid a hard border on our island.”

Afterwards Mr Howlin said he was confident the UK Labour Party would “resist a no-deal scenario no matter who becomes Conservative leader”.

PA

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