Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar announced on Wednesday (14 November) that the text of the Brexit deal with the UK will be put to a vote in the Irish parliament.
While noting that the Brexit deal was still a draft that is yet to be agreed by the UK government and that it was not “legally necessary” for Irish lawmakers to approve the text, Varadkar said it was his “strong view” that his country’s parliament would have a say.
A debate on the deal could be held as soon as next week, he said, and members of parliament would receive a briefing on Wednesday evening.
But Varadkar was circumspect, noting that “a lot of things could go wrong” with the draft Brexit deal in the coming days, and that prime minister Theresa May was facing a “very important and very sensitive” cabinet meeting on Wednesday afternoon.
“I don’t want to say anything here today that might upend that cabinet meeting or make things any more difficult than they are already for the prime minister,” he said.
If the UK approves the text, however, Varadkar said that the EU may be in a position to hold an emergency summit for the bloc’s leaders before the end of November.
While stating again that the “intention” of the Northern Ireland backstop was that it “should never have to be invoked” and that it be “temporary” if it is implemented, he emphasised that it could not have an expiry date and that it would not be possible for any one side to withdraw from it unilaterally.
Media reports suggest that a review clause within the text of the backstop could allow for an independent panel to arbitrate a “good faith” end mechanism for the backstop.
In one of the most significant breakthroughs for Brexit talks in months, negotiators from the UK and EU came to an agreement on the highly contentious issue of the backstop, the clause of the withdrawal agreement that aims to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland.
The text, it has been reported, provides for just one backstop to prevent a hard border, and will come in the form of a temporary UK-wide customs arrangement that will include specific provisions for Northern Ireland.
Varadkar said on Wednesday that the agreement would be an “international treaty” that would “continue to apply even if there was a change in government” in Ireland or the UK.
Noting that the 1991 Good Friday peace agreement is “protected” in the text of the deal, Varadkar said the Irish government would offer a briefing to political parties from Northern Ireland on Thursday morning.
He said it was “quite a difficult time” for the unionist community in Northern Ireland. “Many of them may be feeling vulnerable, many of them might be feeling isolated and many of them may be quite worried about what may be agreed in the coming days.”
Varadkar said that Ireland respected the territory of the UK and Northern Ireland’s principle of consent.
“There can be no change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland unless a majority of Northern Ireland say so and we are very happy to have that written into any agreement,” he noted.