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Leo Varadkar warns Boris Johnson Ireland will not 'fold' in Brexit backstop talks

3 min read

The European Union is behind Ireland and will not "fold" on the backstop, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned Boris Johnson.

The Irish prime minister said it was wrong to believe other EU member states would "gang up" on his country to get it to soften its stance on the Brexit border plan, ahead of a face-to-face meeting with Mr Johnson in New York.

The UK government has demanded that EU leaders remove the "undemocratic" backstop - drawn up to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic if future Brexit talks break down - from the current withdrawal agreement or face the prospect of a no-deal exit from the bloc at the end of October.

But Mr Varadkar said: "There is one thing I do know about Brexit from the last two or three years: [it] is that there are some people in Britain, perhaps not in government, but some people who took the view that France and Germany and the bigger countries would gang up on Ireland, and that’s never happened."

He added: "There are also some people that believe at the last minute that Ireland will somehow fold or give up our position and that’s not going to happen."

Mr Varadkar said British proposals to replace the backstop had so far fallen "very short" of Ireland's requirements for a breakthrough.

"The position that we’ve had all along is that we’re willing to examine alternative arrangements that achieve the same objectives as the backstop, that we agreed to," he said.

"No hard border, north/south co-operation, protecting the all-island economy, and if the UK can come up with alternative arrangements that meet those objectives that are legally binding, we’re willing to accept that and examine those."

His comments came as European Council President Donald Tusk confirmed that there had been "no breakthrough" in discussions with Mr Johnson on the sidelines of the UN gathering in New York.

Mr Tusk tweeted from the summit: "No breakthrough. No breakdown. No time to lose. #Brexit."

A spokesperson for Mr Johnson meanwhile told reporters that he had "emphasised that in order to secure a deal we will now need to see movement and flexibility from the EU".

And the UK Prime Minister defended the Brexit progress made since he took over from Theresa May, saying he remained "cautiously optimistic" about the prospect of a deal.

"I think that a great deal of progress has been made in the sense that, think about when I first became PM, everyone was saying there was no chance of changing the existing agreement, and I think that nobody is saying that," he said.

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