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May and Varadkar discuss NI backstop as rumours swirl over Brexit deal

06 November 2018

May spokesman James Slack said she told the ministers she was confident of reaching a deal, but "while the United Kingdom should aim to secure a withdrawal agreement as soon as possible, this should not be done at any cost".

There were signs of a possible compromise in a phone call on Monday between May and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, where he said he would consider a "review mechanism" for the backstop.

The Withdrawal Agreement is 95% complete, but the final outstanding issues need to be resolved within the week if the United Kingdom government is going to achieve its aim of finalising a deal this month.

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier told Belgian broadcaster RTBF this morning that the two sides were not close to reaching a deal, while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told May on Monday that he was ready to consider a review mechanism that would keep the border with Northern Ireland open after Brexit, but that he would not accept any arrangement that would allow the United Kingdom to withdraw from the customs union without the approval of Brussels.

With a Brexit deal nearing completion with Brussels, the PM is trying to secure the agreement of her cabinet to press on with finalising the terms for Brexit.

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Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has insisted that a time-limited Brexit backstop will never be agreed by the Irish Government or the EU.

The EU agreed to a compromise on the backstop agreement to keep the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland last week, signalling they would accept keeping the whole of the United Kingdom in a customs union until both sides sign up to a deal that would prevent the need for a hard border.

Varadkar separately told reporters that an expiry date of that nature would not be worth the paper it is written on.

However, the Irish prime minister added it may be to Ireland's "advantage" for a review clause to be included in a backstop agreement.

But the United Kingdom insists this must never threaten the union between United Kingdom countries by requiring new customs checks between Northern Ireland and Britain.

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"I'm open to creative solutions and creative language but we will not resile from our fundamental resolution, the backstop can not have a time limit or an exit clause", he continued.

He described the UK as a "divided kingdom", which he said has not helped the negotiation process, adding: "That has made it very hard to come to an agreement".

The Department for Exiting the European Union (DEXEU) said: "We wouldn't comment on private meetings".

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said Dublin's stance was making a no-deal Brexit likely.

"Such an outcome will have serious consequences for economy of Irish Republic".

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Donaldson said that he could not understand why the Irish government "seems so intent on this course". In addition, United Kingdom won't have to pay a penny more to European Union, which means big increase for Dublin.

May and Varadkar discuss NI backstop as rumours swirl over Brexit deal