Ireland’s prime minister has insisted the controversial Irish backstop is the best way to remedy any border issues with Northern Ireland in the wake of Brexit. Leo Varadkar also warned that alternative measures proposed were nowhere near to what his government would deem acceptable.
The backstop is an insurance policy to ensure the border on the island of Ireland remains open even if the UK leaves the European Union without a divorce deal. But its critics, which include the 10 MP's of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, say it would leave parts of the country tied to Brussels indefinitely.
On Friday, The Times said the DUP, which is in a confidence and supply agreement with the ruling Conservative Party, could be prepared to shift its position in a boost to the UK government. The report, however, was rejected by the DUP's Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson.
Mr Varadkar said he was unaware that the DUP’s stance had changed but added the Irish government remained open to workable backstop alternatives.
The backstop was a key but highly controversial part of previous UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement with the EU. Her pact with Brussels was overwhelmingly rejected by parliament three times, including by the DUP.
Mrs May’s replacement Boris Johnson says he wants to hammer out a new Brexit deal but insists he is ready to take the UK out of the EU without a deal on October 31 if necessary. Critics says this could send the country into a recession.
Mr Johnson needs all the support he can get after losing the parliamentary majority after a number of MPs had the whip withdrawn for voting against his government’s Brexit strategy.
“Our position hasn’t changed. We believe that the best solution is the withdrawal agreement including the Irish protocol and the backstop. We are, of course, open to alternative arrangements,” Mr Varadkar said on Friday.
“We’ve always said that we were and we’re in contact with the British government and also the European Commission to explore ideas around that but I have to say what’s been put forward so far falls very far short of what we would need.”
Mr Johnson will hold talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker next week. The UK Prime Minister on Friday said he was “cautiously optimistic” about a Brexit deal during a speech where he was heckled by one audience member.