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Irish Government to 'intensify' no-deal Brexit preparations

The Irish Government is to step up its preparations for a no-deal Brexit after a day of turmoil at the House of Commons after Prime Minister Theresa May pulled her withdrawal agreement meaningful vote.

Theresa May faced calls of “resign” as she endured another bruising Commons appearance over Brexit. After deferring the vote, she said she would return to Brussels for talks.

However, EU officials and Irish ministers have said there can be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement.

Leo Varadkar said the only deal on the table was the withdrawal agreement and to renegotiate it would require a reopening of the entire process.

Later a spokesman for Mr Varadkar said he and European Council president Donald Tusk spoke by phone on Monday afternoon.

"They discussed this week's European Council meeting and the current situation on Brexit," he said.

"They agreed that the Withdrawal Agreement is the best option and could not be renegotiated. They also agreed that preparations for a 'no deal' outcome should intensify."

The EU has consistently said no assurance can contradict the withdrawal agreement text.

In the Commons, Mrs May said her discussions had consistently shown there should be a backstop to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, noting concerns raised by MPs have been over the permanence of the arrangement.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley welcomes the PM's move on deferring the vote to "provide reassurances on the Northern Ireland-Ireland backstop".

She said: "Let me be very clear – I believe that the agreement secured by the Prime Minister is in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. The deal protects our precious Union with the 1998 Belfast Agreement, and the consent principle at its heart, fully maintained. That is the constitutional guarantee for Northern Ireland and this Government will always uphold it."

She added: "I am convinced that leaving the EU without an agreement would be disastrous for Northern Ireland and potentially for the long term future of the Union. I am not prepared to take risks with or gamble the Union of the United Kingdom."

Opposition MPs heckled the Prime Minister and urged her to step down after she confirmed a delay to the vote on her Brexit deal.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned an “extremely serious and unprecedented situation” had emerged, adding: “The Government has lost control of events and is in complete disarray.”

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said the Prime Minister’s reassurance “simply is not credible” and the Government was in “an impossible position” without changes to the backstop.

His DUP colleague Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) said the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Irish premier Leo Varadkar have “slapped down” the idea of any renegotiation of the deal, adding: “The Prime Minister may be prepared to be humiliated by arrogant EU officials and by Irish politicians, but does she not realise that every time she comes back with her tail between her legs she humiliates the British people.

“When will she stand up to the EU? And if she’s not prepared to stand up to the EU then let her have the vote of this House to tell them what we think of their rotten deal.”

Mrs May, in her reply, said “we have stood up to the European Union”, including on preventing the UK being separated into two customs territories.

DUP MP David Simpson (Upper Bann) also urged Mrs May to “admit” that Northern Ireland had had to be made the “sacrificial lamb to placate the Irish Republic and the EU” to ensure her deal got to this stage, something Mrs May denied.

Mrs May sidestepped questions from her own benches about how and when she would be rearranging the so-called “meaningful vote”.

Tory Remainer and former education secretary Justine Greening asked whether she intended on pushing back the date as far as March 28 next year – the day before Brexit Day.

Mrs May said: “I do not believe the scenario she has set out is the correct one… I believe it is right we should be recognising the concerns raised in this House and attempting to find a way through those concerns and to resolve those concerns.”

SNP MP Peter Grant (Glenrothes) criticised Mrs May’s “red lines” on Brexit, adding: “If the Prime Minister will not accept it’s time for the red lines to go, surely it’s time for the Prime Minister to go.”

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