Brexit crisis: Theresa May hoping to make new offer on border this Friday, says Taoiseach

Update 9.27pm: Theresa May is preparing to make a fresh Brexit offer on the Irish border by Friday to try and break the logjam in negotiations amid warnings she may have to wait until the New Year for trade talks, the Taoiseach has said.

With the clock ticking to the December 14 summit of the European Council which must decide whether sufficient progress has been made on the UK's divorce deal to clear the way for talks on the future relationship, there was no sign of a breakthrough on the crucial issue of the Irish border.

The Taoiseach's office characterised a phone-call with Mrs May as a "stock-taking" exercise, and later he made clear he would not back down on his position that Dublin's approval for the opening of the second phase of talks is dependent on agreement on the border.

But he said he discussed with the British Prime Minister the idea of Britain amending its offer to win over the DUP, which scuppered a proposed deal on Monday.

With Mrs May under intense pressure from business for certainty by Christmas over the transition to a new UK/EU relationship, Mr Varadkar said she is hoping to return with a new formal written offer "tonight and tomorrow".

The Taoiseach said he would consider any new proposal, but added: "Ultimately it is up to them to come back to us, given the events that happened on Monday.

"And having consulted with people in London, she wants to come back to us with some text tonight and tomorrow."

After talks with Dutch PM Mark Rutte in Dublin, he said his "absolute red line" that Brexit should not create a hard Irish border remains.

And earlier he told the Dáil: "We want to move to phase two but if it is not possible to move to phase two next week because of the problems that have arisen, well then we can pick it up of course in the New Year."

Mr Rutte made clear the EU would not compromise and allow the Irish border to kicked down the road to phase two of the talks, even under threat of Britain crashing out with no deal or divorce negotiations dragging on to 2018.

"You cannot just say because we need a soft Brexit that we will somehow compromise on some of the fundamentals on the three issues now on the table - citizens' rights, the exit bill, the border," he said.

"On each of three issues these sufficient progress needs to be established and if somehow your scenario would play out and somewhere along the line Britain would opt for a hard Brexit all by itself, the impact on the United Kingdom would again be infinitely bigger than on us."

He added: "We will not loosen our position.

"We will stay very firm."

Update 7.37pm: Calls for UK Brexit Secretary to resign as he admits UK has made no Brexit impact assessments

There were calls for David Davis to resign as the UK's Brexit Secretary and face investigation for contempt of Parliament, after he admitted that the British Government has produced no impact assessments on the effect of Brexit on different sectors of the UK economy.

Hauled before the UK's House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee to explain his failure to hand over 58 sectoral assessments as required by Parliament, Mr Davis said that no such documents had been produced as their usefulness was thought to be "near zero".

Leaving the EU will provoke a "paradigm change" in the UK economy on a similar order of magnitude to the financial crash of 2008, making economic forecast models unlikely to be "informative", he told MPs.

The Brexit Secretary told British MPs as early as last December that his department was "in the midst of carrying out about 57 sets of analyses" on different parts of the economy.

In a TV interview in June he said nearly 60 sector analyses had been completed and in October he told the Brexit committee that British Prime Minister Theresa May had read "summary outcomes" of impact assessments, which he said went into "excruciating detail".

His admission that no assessments existed was branded a "dereliction of duty" by Labour committee member Seema Malhotra, while Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said: "This is beyond farcical. Davis is either grossly incompetent, or someone who struggles with the truth and treats MPs with contempt. Either way, he should be out of his job."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called for "Dexit: an exit from the duplicity and dither of David Davis" as he called for the removal of a minister who he said had "misled Parliament and ... turned incompetence into an art form".

At least two MPs - Labour's David Lammy and the SNP's Pete Wishart - approached Commons Speaker John Bercow to ask whether contempt proceedings could be triggered.

But the Speaker said he would await the conclusions of the committee before considering the issue.

After the Commons passed a Labour motion, unopposed by the Government, last month demanding that Mr Davis hand the 58 impact assessments over to the committee, the Brexit Secretary insisted that the documents did not exist in that form and that it would take time to compile the information gathered by departments across Whitehall.

There was anger among MPs last week when he gave the committee two lever-arch files containing 850 pages of what he termed "sectoral analyses" setting out the current position of various parts of the UK economy.

Today he told the committee that "no systematic impact assessments" had in fact been carried out.

Pressed by committee chairman Hilary Benn whether any impact assessment had been conducted of the implications of Brexit for the automotive, aerospace or financial services sectors, Mr Davis said "no" to each, before cutting the Labour MP short, saying: "I think the answer will be no to all of them."

Instead, he said, officials will, "at some stage" during the forthcoming second phase of Brexit negotiations, conduct work to quantify the effects of different possible outcomes, such as a free trade agreement with the EU or moving to World Trade Organisation rules.

And he told Mr Benn there was no "formal quantitative" assessment undertaken of the likely impact of leaving the customs union before the Government committed itself to the step.

"There was a judgment made on qualitative things, not a quantitative one," he said.

Mr Benn described the decision not to conduct sectoral impact assessments as "rather strange".

And he said it was "quite extraordinary" that no assessment was made of the impact of leaving the customs union "given the momentous nature of that decision".

"You have said there are no impact assessments," said Mr Benn.

"You were hoping that, at the October (European) Council, the door would be open to phase two of the negotiations, where the question would be asked 'What does the UK Government want?'

"Are you actually telling us that the Government hadn't at that point - and still hasn't - undertaken the assessment?"

Mr Davis told the committee: "I'm not a fan of economic models because they have all proven wrong.

"When you have a paradigm change - as happened in 2008 with the financial crisis - all the models were wrong. The Queen famously asked why did we not know.

"Similarly, what we are dealing with here in every outcome - whether it is a free trade agreement, whether it is a WTO outcome or whether it is something between that on the spectrum - it is a paradigm change.

"We know not the size, but the order of magnitude of the impact."

He told the committee he had tried to provide "the closest we could" to what the House of Commons had demanded, subject to his responsibility not to release information which was commercially secret, market sensitive or liable to undermine the UK's negotiating position.

Chancellor Philip Hammond later told a separate meeting of the Commons Treasury Committee that his own department had "modelled and analysed a whole range of potential alternative structures" but said that placing them in the public domain would be "deeply unhelpful to the negotiation".

Update 5.37pm:Brexit crisis: Taoiseach reaffirms Ireland's position in phone call with Theresa May

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has spoken with the British Prime Minister today about developments in the Brexit talks.

A spokesman said they took stock of the events since Monday, and the Taoiseach reiterated Ireland's firm position on the text of the border deal agreed earlier in the week.

Mr Varadkar and Theresa May will speak again in the coming days.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said: "The Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, Theresa May, spoke by telephone this afternoon.

"They took stock of developments since Monday. The Taoiseach reiterated the firm Irish position regarding the text as outlined by him on Monday.

"They agreed to speak again over the coming days."

In the Dáil earlier, the Taoiseach said all of Northern Ireland needs to be considered, not just the DUP.

He said: "I think we should listen to all parties in Northern Ireland, and not accept this idea that seems to be gaining prevalence in some parts of London, and maybe other places as well, that there is only one party in Northern Ireland and that party speaks for everyone in Northern Ireland.

"I don't accept that premise which seems to be accepted by too many people at the moment."

Update 4.23pm: Brexit crisis:Theresa May warned over dissident republicans if no deal

Theresa May has been warned no Brexit deal is "reckless and dangerous", as "utterly ruthless" dissident republicans would target border officials.

Independent MP Lady Hermon (North Down) said a hard border would inevitably exist between Northern Ireland and the Republic if the UK and EU failed to agree a deal.

She added the UK Government had a "moral" responsibility to take care of all officials, including those from HM Revenue and Customs, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and UK Border Force.

Lady Hermon has attracted support from Conservative MPs for her European Union (Withdrawal) Bill proposal - new clause 70 - which seeks to preserve the principles of the Good Friday Agreement in the legislation.

The Bill seeks to transfer European law into British law, and says it may not amend or repeal the Northern Ireland Act 1998 - which is underpinned by the agreement.

Lady Hermon said she believed the wording was technically correct but questioned what it meant, insisting the language must be clearer in stating its commitment to the principles of the agreement.

Update 2.33pm: Brexit crisis: It is in Ireland's interest to move to phase two of talks, says Varadkar

Irish border talks could resume in the New Year if agreement is not sealed by next week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said today.

Leo Varadkar acknowledged it was in Ireland's own interest to see the EU-UK negotiations proceed to their second phase and address post-Brexit trade once the European Council meets on December 14/15.

The DUP MP Ian Paisley Jnr has suggested a no-deal Brexit could cost the Republic 3.8% of its GDP overnight.

Mr Varadkar said leaders needed to listen to other voices in Northern Ireland as well as Theresa May's pro-Brexit partners the Democratic Unionists, as they attempted to iron out differences over the border and other issues.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil: "We want to move to phase two but if it is not possible to move to phase two next week because of the problems that have arisen, well then we can pick it up of course in the New Year."

He stood by the text "agreed" between negotiators on Monday which was reportedly scuppered by a late intervention from the DUP, which said it could not accept the Government's proposal that there should be continued "regulatory alignment" between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Mr Varadkar said he intended to speak to the British Prime Minister in the coming days.

He added: "I think we should listen to all parties in Northern Ireland and not accept this idea that seems to be gaining prevalence in some parts of London and maybe other places as well that there is only one party in Northern Ireland and that party speaks for everyone.

"I don't accept that premise, which seems to be accepted by too many people at the moment."

The Taoiseach said it was the UK's role to come back to the EU side with proposals.

"I understand that the Prime Minister has difficult issues that she is managing, there are different views within her own party on Brexit and she also has to manage a confidence and supply agreement that she has with the DUP," she said.

"I absolutely accept that Theresa May wants to come to an agreement, that she is acting in good faith and I want to give her time ... before we move things forward."

He said it was the "desire, ambition and wish" of his Government to move on to post-Brexit trade talks.

"It is in our interest to move to phase two, that is where we talk about the transition period that we need, so individuals and businesses can prepare for any long-term change.

"It is where we can talk about the new trading arrangements which are so important for Irish importers and exporters, the agri-food industry and anyone whose job in Ireland depends on trade with Britain."

Update 1pm: Taoiseach warned against 'placating' DUP with watered-down proposal

A senior Sinn Féin TD has warned Taoiseach Leo Varadkar not to take part in "back-sliding" on the on-ice Brexit border deal in order to placate the DUP's concerns over the issue.

A senior Sinn Féin TD has warned Taoiseach Leo Varadkar not to take part in "back-sliding" on the on-ice Brexit border deal in order to placate the DUP's concerns over the issue, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said his party is not in favour watering down of the plan, should it be suggested over the coming days.

This morning, it emerged that Mr Varadkar may be open to adding to the initial border deal on the strict conditions any additional points do not change the meaning of the document.

While Government officials have stressed if such a move takes place it will not under any circumstances be allowed to water down the current agreement, Mr Ó Broin told the Irish Examiner: "The DUP has today said they want radical revisions, not amendments or corrections.

"Given our experience with the DUP in their unreasonableness in implementing existing agreements, I think the Government would need to be very, very careful to give any indication they will entertain the DUP on such serious issues.

"While we haven't seen the detail of the text received, we certainly wouldn't support any back-sliding on that to placate the DUP or the Euro-sceptic Tory back-benches," he said.

Update 1pm: Theresa May promises to protect 'constitutional integrity' of UK

Theresa May has pledged to protect the "constitutional integrity" of the UK in the negotiations to break the deadlock in the Brexit talks over the Irish border.

The British Prime Minister, who spoke earlier by telephone to Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster, said that her government was committed to ensuring there was no return to a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

However, she told MPs at Prime Minister's Questions that the issue could only be finally resolved once negotiations with the EU move onto the second phase - including talks on a free trade deal.

Her comments came after the DUP scuppered a deal on Monday to enable the talks to move the second phase, saying they could not accept the British government's proposal that there should be continued "regulatory alignment" between the North and the Republic.

Mrs Foster said that it amounted to imposing a "border in the Irish Sea" between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Mrs May said: "We will ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

"We will do that while we respect the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and while we respect the internal market and protect the internal market of the United Kingdom.

"That is the point of the second phase of the negotiations because we aim to deliver this as part of our overall trade deal with the European Union and we can only talk about that when we get into phase two."

Meanwhile in the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar trying to stay diplomatic, but encouraging the DUP to get with the programme.

"Though we should remember in Northern Ireland that there are many voices, and there are even unionist voices who are very much behind the proposals that were taken to Brussels in the days gone by," he said.

Earlier: Arlene Foster: Ireland pushing border agenda in Brexit talks

Brexit talks remain in deadlock as DUP leader Arlene Foster said the Government has been pushing an “aggressive agenda” on the border issue, writes Elaine Loughlin and Juno McEnroe.

With the negotiating clock ticking down, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hit out at Ms Foster’s party, claiming in the Dáil that most people in the North would back the deal rejected by the DUP.

UK prime minister Theresa May now faces intense pressure to formulate a solution before the end of the week with Dublin and Belfast placing the responsibility firmly on her shoulders.

Mr Varadkar said there is still time to piece a deal back together before a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels next week, but said that the “ball is very much in London’s court”.

An optimistic note was sounded by the Taoiseach’s spokesman last night who suggested it would “not be unreasonable” to change the wording of the agreement provided it did “not undermine” what had been achieved by the Irish side.

However, there was little give from Ms Foster, who blamed Mr Varadkar for withholding the text of the agreement, which, when seen by the DUP on Monday resulted in a phone call to Ms May and the eventual stalling of the deal.

“We were told that the Irish government prevented it coming to us and we have to take that at face value,” said Ms Foster. “The text only came through to us late [Monday] morning. Once we saw the text we knew that it wasn’t going to be acceptable.

“We had made it clear right throughout that our red line, and it’s the one thing that we have consistently talked about that we couldn’t have a situation where Northern Ireland was different from the rest of the UK. That is something that obviously came as a big shock when we looked at the wording.”

However, the Government last night strongly denied claims that they were responsible for keeping unionists in the dark on the special Brexit deal.

In a statement clearly laying the blame back on Downing Street, the Government said it rejected Ms Foster’s claim and said it had “no role whatsoever in the negotiations conducted by the British government”.

A Government statement said it “had no involvement in any decision on which documents should go to the DUP”.

In the Dáil the Taoiseach said he believed the majority of people living in the North would favour the deal rejected by the DUP, adding that no agreement could involve one political party to the exclusion of others.

“I believe, and this is the most important thing, that the majority of people in Northern Ireland, if they were so asked, would like to have this agreement,” said Mr Varadkar.

“We will recognise the fact that the majority of people in Northern Ireland, and the majority of constituencies in Northern Ireland, did not vote to leave the European Union.

“Perhaps if the Northern Ireland Assembly was meeting today it might even pass a resolution in favour of what was agreed, as a majority of the people elected to that Assembly wanted to remain and the majority of the parties, including the Alliance Party, the Green Party, the SDLP and others, want to stay in the internal market and the customs union but, unfortunately, we have to deal with the situation as we find it.”

Mr Varadkar already said this week that a final deal could be done in January or even February. Another meeting in Brussels between Ms May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker is expected either today or over the next few days.

“The priority is to give plenty of time to resolve this,” a spokesman said.

The negotiating deadlock was yesterday described as a “car crash” by a former Northern Ireland secretary in the Lords. Labour’s Peter Hain suggestion was to apply that alignment across the UK “then the problem is solved”.

This article first appeared on the Irish Examiner.


 

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