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Leo Varadkar open to conditional review mechanism for border backstop

The Taoiseach spoke to Theresa May and they both emphasised their commitment to avoid a hard border.

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Prime Minister Theresa May with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (PA)

Prime Minister Theresa May with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (PA)

Prime Minister Theresa May with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (PA)

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has told Theresa May he is willing to consider proposals for a review clause in any backstop plans for the Irish border in the wake of Britain leaving the EU.

During a phone call between the Taoiseach and Prime Minister on Monday, Mr Varadkar said that the outcome of a review could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop.

A spokeswoman for the Irish Government said that both leaders emphasised their commitment to avoiding a hard border and the need for a legally-operable backstop.

“The (British) Prime Minister raised the possibility of a review mechanism for the backstop,” the spokeswoman added.

“The Taoiseach indicated an openness to consider proposals for a review, provided that it was clear that the outcome of any such review could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

“He recalled the prior commitments made that the backstop must apply ‘unless, and until’ alternative arrangements are agreed.

“They both expressed the hope that the negotiations could conclude in a satisfactory manner as soon as possible.”

A Downing Street spokesman described Mrs May’s conversation with Mr Varadkar as “constructive”, adding: “They agreed that the intention was that the backstop should only be a temporary arrangement and that the best solution to the Northern Ireland border would be found by agreeing a future relationship between the UK and the EU.

“In order to ensure that the backstop, if ever needed, would be temporary, the Prime Minister said that there would need to be a mechanism through which the backstop could be brought to an end.”

The call came after Mr Varadkar dismissed the idea of a time-limited backstop, saying it would not be worth the paper it is written on.

Reports at the weekend that Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has privately demanded the right to pull Britain out of the EU’s proposed Irish backstop after just three months had been criticised by the Irish government.

Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney said that their position remains “consistent and clear” that a time-limited backstop will never be agreed to by Ireland or the EU.

Speaking on Monday morning, Mr Varadkar described the UK as a “divided kingdom”, which he said has not helped the negotiation process.

“The UK in many ways is a divided kingdom, the people are split 50/50 over whether they want to leave the European Union or not,” he said.

“The Cabinet seems divided, the Government seems divided, Parliament is divided, and that has made it very difficult to come to an agreement.

“I’d much prefer to have a united kingdom, a united country, to be our partner in these negotiations, but we don’t, so we have to work through.

“Thankfully in Ireland we have a government that is united, and we have in Parliament as well, that’s largely united behind the Government on this issue.”

He said that the Irish Government was working hard to try to reach an agreement by the end of the year but added that it cannot countenance the idea of a three-month limit to the backstop agreement.

“A backstop with a three-month limit on it or expiry date of that nature isn’t worth the paper it’s written on and what the backstop the UK Government has signed up to is a legally operative backstop that will apply unless, and until, we have any agreement to supersede it,” he continued.

“I think it’s reasonable for us to expect a country like the United Kingdom and a government like the UK Government to stand by its commitments.”

He spoke as he attended an official opening of a newly built development of 42 social homes in north Dublin.

The new housing features 31 one, two and three-bedroom apartments and 11 townhouses and will provide homes for 150 people.

It comes as the number of homeless people living in emergency accommodation increased last month, adding to the country’s housing crisis.

Mr Varadkar said the new housing development is an example of the Government’s attempt to sort out the housing shortage.

He added: “Of course to some of our opponents, particularly those on the left, this place doesn’t exist because it’s not directly built by a local authority, it’s built through a partnership involving the city council and Oaklee Housing Trust.

“I think to the people who live here they will tell you that it does exist and that it provides really high quality public housing.”

PA