Update: Brexit deal could be pushed back to December – Varadkar

Update 2.25pm: Leo Varadkar has said a Brexit deal could be delayed until December.

The Taoiseach said negotiations are continuing but admitted “no one knows for sure” when an agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom can be reached.

Mr Varadkar said the Government has been preparing for a no-deal scenario but added that officials “don’t believe” it is the likely outcome.

“We are hiring the necessary custom officials and making the necessary adaptations to the ports and airports that we need in a no-deal scenario, and also a deal scenario, because even a good deal will result in changes,” he said.

I figure November or December the best opportunity for a deal. This is a dynamic situation

“The difference in a no-deal is that the changes will be greater and they won’t be quicker.

“The negotiations are still ongoing, we are at a sensitive phase and I know some people were optimistic about an agreement on the withdrawal agreement this week. I have to say I always thought that was unlikely, I figure November or December the best opportunity for a deal. This is a dynamic situation.

“We are always open to compromise, as the EU of course we are, but there are some fundamentals we can’t compromise on.”

He said the British Government needs to honour its commitment to a backstop agreement which is legally operable and legally binding to ensure no hard border emerges on the island of Ireland.

For all of us, but particularly the UK, the consequences of a no-deal Brexit at the end of March is potentially catastrophic

Mr Varadkar added: “Any withdrawal agreement requires parliamentary ratification by the European Parliament and by Westminster, so we’ve always worked back from that timeline, and the view is that in order to meet that timeline we would have to have a deal before the end of the year.

“The initial target was October and that could be back to November.

“The possibility remains open to having an emergency summit in November if we can get to a deal.

“For all of us, but particularly the UK, the consequences of a no-deal Brexit at the end of March is potentially catastrophic. Really bad for Ireland, relatively bad for the EU, but quite a disaster for the UK, and I am sure that the British Government is motivated to make sure we don’t end up in a no-deal scenario.

“I spoke to Theresa May yesterday and she assured me of her commitment to getting a deal done and her commitment to honouring the commitment that they made on several occasions to having a backstop as part of the agreement and making sure it’s legally operable.”

- Press Association

Update 2.07pm: May ‘confident’ of Brexit deal despite Irish border impasse

Downing Street has insisted that the British Prime Minister remains “confident” of getting a Brexit deal, despite the failure to bridge differences over the future of the Irish border ahead of this week’s crunch summit.

Theresa May is set to address MPs in the House of Commons on the state of Brexit negotiations on Monday afternoon after talks over the weekend failed to produce the hoped-for breakthrough on the so-called “backstop” arrangements for Ireland.

The impasse means that meetings between “sherpas” in Brussels have been cancelled, and UK Government ministers will have no withdrawal plan to approve at Cabinet on Tuesday, before Mrs May travels to the European Council summit the following day.

(PA Graphics)

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said: “Despite intensive negotiations several key issues remain unresolved. I can say that no further negotiations are planned ahead of the European Council.”

The PM’s official spokesman said that “real progress” had been made on a number of issues and the Government was determined to press on with talks.

But he said that the EU continued to insist on the possibility of a carve-out for Northern Ireland which could see a customs border down the Irish Sea – something Mrs May has already said would be unacceptable to any British Prime Minister.

Britain is offering a temporary backstop arrangement under which the whole UK would remain in the EU customs area unless an open border in Ireland was secured by a broader trade agreement.

Discussions were said to have broken down after EU negotiators demanded a “backstop to the backstop”, under which Northern Ireland would stay in the customs union after the time-limited UK-wide arrangement came to an end.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said talks were “entering the moment of crisis” and urged Mrs May to reject the EU’s offer and scrap the backstop.

“The EU is treating us with naked contempt … (offering) a choice between the break-up of this country or the subjugation of this country, between separation or submission,” Mr Johnson told the Daily Telegraph.

Mrs May’s spokesman said that reports that a deal had been reached at official level on Sunday, only to break down when Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab met EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, should be “taken with a pinch of salt”.

The spokesman said: “We have made real progress in a number of key areas. However, there remain a number of unresolved issues relating to the backstop.

“The European Union and the UK are both clear that they want to secure a good deal and that is what both sides are working  towards.

“We remain confident of getting a deal because it is in the interests of both the UK and the European Union.

(PA Graphics)

“We’ve said that we want to continue to make progress in the coming days and weeks. That’s what we are focused on.”

He added: “The EU continues to insist on the possibility of a customs border down the Irish Sea. This is something which Parliament has already unanimously rejected and is not acceptable to the Prime Minister.”

Arriving in Luxembourg for an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said Dublin and Brussels simply wanted Mrs May to follow through with backstop agreements already made in December and March.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the backstop cannot be time-limited (European Commission Audiovisual Services)

He told reporters “a backstop can’t be time-limited”, adding: “The backstop will be there unless and until something else is agreed, but unless you have something to replace it well then the backstop needs to be there as an insurance mechanism.”

But the DUP’s Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds, told the Telegraph: “One part of the UK cannot be left behind, bound to rules set in Brussels. The constitutional and economic consequences of such an approach would be catastrophic in the long run.”

The impasse threatens to throw into disarray carefully choreographed plans which would have seen EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Wednesday give the green light to a special summit in November to finalise the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc.

It remains unclear whether Mrs May will be given the opportunity to address leaders of the remaining 27 EU states on Wednesday before they go into a working dinner to discuss Brexit in her absence.

Reports from Brussels suggest that the EU27 are considering instead using the mooted November summit to discuss preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

With Mrs May under siege from Tory Eurosceptics and her DUP parliamentary allies, her room for manoeuvre is severely restricted.

Although the absence of a deal has damped down expectations of ministerial resignations, eurosceptic Cabinet members are reported to be planning to meet over pizza on Monday evening to co-ordinate their stance.

Asked whether Mrs May regarded the so-called “pizza summit” as helpful, the PM’s spokesman said: “Cabinet ministers are free to eat whatever they choose. Cabinet colleagues have discussions with each other all the time.”

For Labour, Keir Starmer said the UK Government must now publish details of its revised proposals for the Irish border.

Keir Starmer has said the Government must publish its backstop plan (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“At the moment we don’t even know what the proposal is that everybody has fallen out about over the weekend,” the shadow Brexit secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “That needs to be looked at and scrutinised in Parliament.”

Talks were taking place on Monday between DUP leader Arlene Foster and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, while Mrs May was meeting Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald in Westminster.

The febrile atmosphere in the Tory ranks has seen former Brexit secretary David Davis emerge as a potential successor to Mrs May.

Tory MP Nadine Dorries said: “Getting May out and him becoming an interim leader may be the only way to deliver Brexit and FTA (a free-trade agreement).”

Allies of Mr Davis said he has been contacted by several Tory MPs urging him to run for the leadership and he is understood to be prepared to take part in a contest.

- Press Association

Update 10.45am: 'Frustrating and disappointing' that latest Brexit talks have stalled - Simon Coveney

It is frustrating and disappointing that Brexit talks have stalled, according to the Tánaiste.

Simon Coveney is attending a meeting of EU Foreign Affairs Ministers in Luxembourg after Brexit negotiations last night failed to reach a deal on the border with the North.

Talks have now been delayed until Wednesday's crucial summit of EU leaders.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney believes a deal can be done, despite this latest setback

"That is frustrating and disappointing from an Irish perspective - as the country that is more exposed to the fallout of Brexit than any other EU country, outside the UK itself," said the Tánaiste.

"For us, we want to see an outcome here that settles nerves, that allows us to move ahead with a managed, sensible Brexit. I think it is still possible to do that."

Mr Coveney added that Dublin and the EU simply wanted UK Prime Minister Theresa May to follow through with agreements already made in March and December.

He said: "A backstop can't be time-limited.

That is new, it hasn't been there before. Nobody was suggesting in March that a backstop would be time-limited in terms of picking a date in the future as an endpoint for the backstop.

"The backstop will be there unless and until something else is agreed, but unless you have something to replace it well then the backstop needs to be there as an insurance mechanism.

"That is all we are asking for, that's all the Michel Barnier taskforce is also looking for now in terms of legal text."

Later this evening, DUP leader Arlene Foster is meeting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for a private dinner in Dublin.

It is understood she will stress a desire for a strong relationship between the North and Ireland to continue post-Brexit.

She will tell Mr Varadkar that she wants to see a deal that works for both jurisdictions.

It is understood Mrs Foster will seek to strike a conciliatory tone with Mr Varadkar after a year that has seen relations between the pair fray over Brexit.

On her visit to Dublin, Mrs Foster will also meet Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

- PA & Digital Desk

Earlier: Brexit talks hit ‘significant problem’ over Irish border

The Brexit talks have run into a “significant problem” over the fraught issue of the Northern Ireland border, British Government sources have said.

Negotiations are on a knife-edge after a hastily-arranged meeting on Sunday between EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab broke up without a breakthrough.

Discussions were said to have broken down after EU negotiators demanded a “backstop to the backstop” to prevent a return of a “hard border” between Ireland and the North.

Theresa May has proposed the backstop – which would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the single market while a permanent solution is found – should apply to the whole of the UK.

However it is understood the EU is insisting it should be backed up by the original Northern Ireland-only backstop as it first proposed.

That could lead to customs checks on goods travelling between the North and the rest of the UK – effectively imposing a “border in the Irish Sea” – something Mrs May has said is unacceptable.

The impasse threatens to throw into disarray carefully choreographed plans which would have seen EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Wednesday give the green light to a special summit in November to finalise the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc.

- Press Association

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