Irish PM Leo Varadkar warns he will not be ‘bullied’ into dropping backstop as Boris Johnson sends his new EU envoy to deliver tough message to Brussels
- Irish PM Leo Varadkar has warned he will not be ‘bullied’ into dropping backstop
- The rebuke came after Boris Johnson said talks will not re-start until it is ditched
- DUP leader Arlene Foster accused Mr Varadkar of ‘Project Fear’ on Brexit fallout
Irish PM Leo Varadkar today warned he will not be ‘bullied’ into dropping the backstop as Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans ran into a wall of opposition.
The Taoiseach said he was ‘absolutely not’ going to give in to the demand from the new PM , jibing that the UK leaving the EU ‘was not our idea’.
The blunt dismissal came as Mr Johnson sent his Brexit envoy David Frost to Brussels for the first time.
Mr Frost – who was expected to meet officials on Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier – has been tasked with delivering a tough message that negotiations cannot re-start until the backstop is ditched.
Mr Johnson finally spoke to Mr Varadkar by phone yesterday, fully six days after he took over at No10, but there was no sign of a breakthrough over Brexit.
Speaking to the Irish Mirror today, the Taoiseach said he was ‘absolutely not’ going to give in to the backstop demand.
‘You know Ireland isn’t going to be bullied on this issue and as a Government and as a country, I think we are going to stick by our position. Brexit wasn’t our idea,’ he said.
Irish PM Leo Varadkar (pictured at an EU summit last month) today warned he will not be ‘bullied’ into dropping the backstop
Boris Johnson (pictured at Downing Street tonight) made clear that the EU must agree to scrap the hated backstop before negotiations can re-start
The clashes came as Mr Johnson enduring four hours of gruelling talks with the Northern Ireland political parties at Stormont today.
On his first visit to the province as PM, he pledged to honour the ‘letter and spirit’ of the Good Friday Agreement as he pushes through the UK’s departure from the EU.
What is the Irish backstop and why is it so divisive?
The so-called Irish border backstop is one of the most controversial parts of the existing Brexit deal. This is what it means:
What is the backstop?
The backstop was invented to meet promises to keep open the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland even if there is no comprehensive UK-EU trade deal.
The divorce deal says it will kick in automatically at the end of the Brexit transition period if that deal is not in place.
It effectively keeps the UK in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland in both the customs union and single market.
This means many EU laws will keep being imposed on the UK, restricting its ability to do its own trade deals. It also means regulatory checks on some goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Why have Ireland and the EU demanded it?
Because the UK is leaving the customs union and single market, the EU said it needed guarantees that people and goods circulating inside its border – in this case in Ireland – met its rules.
This is covered by the Brexit transition, which effectively maintains the status quo, and can in theory be done in the comprehensive EU-UK trade deal.
But the EU said there had to be a backstop to cover what happens in any gap between the transition and final deal.
Why do critics hate it?
Because Britain cannot decide when to leave the backstop.
Getting out – even if there is a trade deal – can only happen if both sides agree and Brexiteers fear the EU will unreasonably demand the backstop continues so EU law continues to apply in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland MPs also hate the regulatory border in the Irish Sea, insisting it unreasonably carves up the United Kingdom.
However, Mr Johnson faced anger after again insisting that Brexit must happen by the end of October ‘come what may’.
A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Johnson had made clear during the talks at Stormont this morning that he was ‘determined’ to restore powersharing.
The spokeswoman added: ‘The discussions also included Brexit, where the Prime Minister made clear that the UK would be leaving the EU on October 31st come what may, and restated his intention to do so with a deal.
‘He said that in all scenarios, the Government is steadfast in its commitment to the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement and that in no circumstances would there be physical checks or infrastructure on the border.
‘He also made clear his belief and commitment in the rigorous impartiality set out in the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement, while at the same time reaffirming his determination to strengthen the Union and Northern Ireland’s place within it.’
Sinn Fein called for a referendum on reunifying the island of Ireland – an idea Mr Varadkar has said ‘moderates’ will increasingly come around to.
But Mrs Foster raged that they were engaging in ‘Project Fear Mark II’, demanding he ‘dials down the rhetoric’ and recognises the ‘mandate’ of the new PM.
Following her own discussions with Mr Johnson, Mrs Foster said Dublin needed to ‘dial down the rhetoric’ on Brexit.
She accused the Taoiseach of making ‘Project Fear’ comments over Irish reunification.
Last week Mr Varadkar sniped that ‘moderate nationalists or moderate Catholics who were more or less happy with the status quo will look more towards a united Ireland’.
The DUP leader said: ‘It is Project Fear Mark II from the Taoiseach…
‘He needs to dial down the rhetoric, he needs to recognise the mandate of the Prime Minister and he needs to engage.
Mrs Foster said the backstop was ‘running a coach and horses’ through the Good Friday Agreement because it did not meet the principle of consent.
‘It is very clear it is the backstop that has caused all of the difficulties with the Withdrawal Agreement and therefore that needs to be the subject of focused negotiations to deal with it and therefore we will support the Prime Minister in doing that,’ she said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster (pictured centre at Stormont with her deputy Nigel Dodds, left, today) raged that Mr Varadkar was engaging in ‘Project Fear Mark II’ over Brexit