Varadkar: Draft UK-EU withdrawal deal may not include soft border agreement

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said December's soft Irish border agreement will remain "legally binding" even if it is not included in the draft UK-EU withdrawal deal and is instead relegated to a secondary report.

Both the Taoiseach and a senior Government official made the claim on Thursday amid reports the draft withdrawal deal - which will be published in two weeks - will not reference the previously claimed "bulletproof" soft border agreement.

Speaking at an event in Dublin before attending an informal European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, Mr Varadkar confirmed the draft withdrawal deal will be released in early March.

However, referencing recent wording leaks which claim the soft Irish border deal will not be included in the document and will instead be part of a linked protocol, the Taoiseach said even if this occurs it will not dilute December's "legally binding" agreements.

"We are very much saying as a Government that the withdrawal agreement must include in a legal form and a legally binding form of the commitments and guarantees that were given to us in December.

"That is very much the position of our Government, and it doesn't matter if it's in the body of the text or a [secondary] protocol [report] by the way, it's legally binding either way, the important thing is that it's legally binding.

"I think within two weeks you will see a draft of the withdrawal agreement published, and that will certainly crystalise things again," he said.

A senior Government source agreed on Thursday night, saying it does not matter whether the Irish border is referenced in the main deal or another way, provided it is acknowledged.

Mr Varadkar separately said the UK must not be allowed to "cherry-pick" a deal. He also said the UK's departure "isn't entirely unwelcome", despite saying London has still been "a very strong allay".

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