Theresa May's latest Brexit plan a 'pure illusion' - Varadkar and Tusk

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and European Council president Donald Tusk have launched a brazen broadside against Britain's latest Brexit stand-off solution, saying Theresa May's plan to solve the issue is "having your cake and eating it" and "an illusion".

Mr Varadkar and Mr Tusk lashed out at the British prime minister's half-way house plan to end the Brexit customs union stalemate as the Taoiseach separately warned hard-line Brexiteers to "respect our vote" on the 20-year-old Good Friday agreement.

In a bid to finally outline a coherent British Brexit plan, on Thursday Ms May held a high-level Brexit cabinet committee meeting in Chequers to find a balance between a soft and hard departure from the EU.

Subsequent leaks on Friday said Ms May offered her ministers a choice between three "baskets", with one signifying ongoing EU rules alignment, a second a moderate departure, and a third complete divergence.

File image of Leo Varadkar and Donald Tusk.

The latter option, if pursued, would almost certainly have meant either imposing a hard Irish border or forcing customs checks between the North and the rest of Britain, which the DUP would almost certainly reject.

Ministers ultimately chose the middle option, which indicates some willingness to follow EU rules in certain areas - although it will remain unclear what EU regulations will be involved until Ms May outlines the move in a speech next Friday.

Downing Street had hoped the latest British Brexit plan would end a complex stand-off over customs union access, the Irish border and other issues.

However, that hope was shattered on Friday night, after both Mr Varadkar and Mr Tusk insisted there is no possibility such a move will be accepted.

"We're hearing this idea that there'd be three baskets if you like and one basket would be very closely aligned to the EU, another would be in between and a third would be divergence.

"But that's not a significant move away from having your cake and eating it and that just isn't possible," Mr Varadkar told reporters in Brussels, Belgium, after an informal European Council meeting last night, adding when asked if it is "cherry-picking":

"Yes, which is why it's not possible."

In a separate briefing on Friday night, European Council president Donald Tusk was similarly critical, dismissing the latest London plan as "pure illusion".

"I am glad that the UK government seems to be moving towards a more detailed position. However ... I am afraid that the UK position today is based on pure illusion. It seems like the 'cake' philosophy is still alive," he said.

The comments came as Mr Varadkar separately hit out at hard-line Brexiteers calling for the Good Friday agreement to be scrapped as it is causing Brexit difficulties, saying if Brexiteers are so adamant people should respect the democratic 52-48% decision by British voters to leave the EU, then they should also respect the 1998 deal.

"I would say to them what they always say to us: respect our vote. The UK voted 52-48% to leave the EU. [We voted] 94% for the Good Friday agreement in Ireland and 71% in Northern Ireland," Mr Varadkar said.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach has admitted he only found out last December's "bulletproof" Irish border agreement will not be included in the EU-UK withdrawal deal and will instead be relegated to a linked protocol last week.

Asked when he learned of the likely move after the decision was leaked in recent days before the withdrawal deal's wording is released next week, Mr Varadkar said: "I suppose last week".

However, the Taoiseach - who has come under political fire over the change - quickly added a protocol is still "legally binding", saying: "Let's not forget the Kyoto protocol is a protocol, a legally binding treaty on climate change."

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