Irish PM insists EU will not let Theresa May change Brexit deal after she pulls Commons vote

Posted On: 
10th December 2018

Ireland's prime minister has dashed hopes that Theresa May will be able to secure changes to her Brexit deal after she shelved a Commons vote on the agreement.

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Leo Varadkar said the Brexit deal was the 'only agreement on the table'.

Leo Varadkar said Britain's agreement with the 27 EU member states was "the only agreement on the table", and blamed the UK Government's own "red lines" on Brexit for the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.

The firm statement came after it emerged that Mrs May has pulled a vote on her deal scheduled for Tuesday in the teeth of opposition across the House of Commons.

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The Prime Minister is due to update MPs at 3.30pm amid reports she could now seek a string of changes from Brussels.

Minister Nadhim Zahawi said Mrs May had "listened to colleagues and will head to Brussels to push back on the backstop".

But the Irish Taoiseach told reporters: "The withdrawal agreement - including the Irish backstop - is the only agreement on the table. It took over a year-and-a-half to negotiate.

"It has the support of 28 governments and it's not possible to reopen any aspect of that agreement without opening all aspects of it."

The backstop has proved the most controversial aspect of the deal, with Conservative MPs lining up with the Democratic Unionist Party to warn it could create divergence between Ireland and Northern Ireland and leave Britain indefinitely bound by EU rules.

However, the Irish PM blamed Mrs May's own negotiating stance for the backstop, which is designed to kick in only if the UK and the EU cannot agree a permanent fix to avoid fresh checks at the Northern Ireland border.

Mr Varadkar said: "A lot of concessions have been made along the way, most recently for example we agreed that there would be a review clause.

"I don't think we should ever forget how we got to this point. The United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union and the UK Government decided to take lots of options off the table, whether it was staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union or a Northern Ireland specific backstop. 

"The reason why we ended up with the solution that we have is because of the red lines which the United Kingdom itself laid down."

Meanwhile the European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, tweeted: “I can’t follow anymore. After two years of negotiations, the Tory government wants to delay the vote. Just keep in mind that we will never let the Irish down.

“This delay will further aggravate the uncertainty for people & businesses. It’s time they make up their mind!”

But Mrs May is likely to face renewed pressure from her own Eurosceptic backbenchers to push for changes from the EU.

Former minister Steve Baker - who coordinates Brexiteer opposition through the European Research Group of Tory MPs said Mrs May should "demand a better deal" including an end to the "dreaded backstop" or "a right to leave the backstop unilaterally so that our UK Parliament is truly sovereign".

"This is essentially a defeat of the Prime Minister's Brexit deal," he said in a statement. 

"The terms of the WA [Withdrawal Agreement] were so bad that they didn't dare put it to Parliament for a vote. 

"This isn't the mark of a stable government or a strong plan."