Irish premier warns against attempt to ‘amend or unthink’ Brexit deal

By Michelle Devane, Press Association

Any attempt to renegotiate the Brexit deal could see the whole agreement unravel, Ireland’s prime minister has warned.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar downplayed the prospects of the EU countenancing amendments to a text that has taken two years to develop.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Varadkar, who said the only way to avoid a hard border in Ireland was through a deal, said a renegotiation would be impossible before the scheduled Brexit date of March next year and if the UK decided to push for a rethink it would have to request an extension to its departure date from the European Union.

As Prime Minister Theresa May faces a struggle to get parliamentary support for the draft deal struck with EU negotiators, Mr Varadkar said Ireland’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit continued.

On a visit to a housing development in Dublin, Mr Varadkar predicted that Mrs May may start to secure more support for her proposals as the Brexit “precipice” approaches.

“This is a withdrawal agreement which took the best part of two years to negotiate involving 28 countries all of whom have their own particular concerns and interests,” he said.

“If you start trying to amend it or unthink it you might find that the whole thing unravels.”

Acknowledging Mrs May has “quite a battle” to get the draft document through the House of Commons, Mr Varadkar said: “She is someone who has shown enormous resilience in the past.

“Certainly in our dealings with her she’s been true to her word.”

He added: “I know looking at things today that it looks like it’s going to be very difficult to win the vote in the House of Commons but I think as reality kicks in and as the precipice approaches, you may find more and more people becoming willing to support this deal.”

Mr Varadkar said he did not think the draft agreement could be re-negotiated before the end of March and that “any renegotiation would involve postponing Brexit”.

But he said that would require the UK requesting an extension to Article 50 and he did not think that they would do so.

He said the UK Government had been “clear in their dealings” with the Irish Government and the EU that they intended to leave on March 29 and they would not be seeking a delayed Brexit.

Mr Varadkar said the Irish Government was “continuing to make preparations” for a no-deal Brexit.

“We have to be prudent, we have to prepare for the worst case scenario is even though I’m much more confident now that the worst case scenario won’t arise,” he said.

“The truth is no country could be prepared for a no-deal Brexit.”

Mr Varadkar said, in such a situation, it would be “very difficult” to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“In a no-deal scenario it would be very difficult to avoid a hard border because of the obvious fact that, as Ireland remaining part of the European Union, we would no doubt be asked to implement European law,” he said.

“Also the United Kingdom having left the European Union would seek to join the World Trade Organisation.

“They would have to implement WTO rules so those hard Brexiteers who say that somehow just through political will you can avoid a hard border that doesn’t make sense.”

He added: “The only way we can avoid a hard border is by an agreement.”