Varadkar on Theresa May: 'I have absolute faith and confidence in her'

Update 4.54pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he trusts British prime minister Theresa May while also insisting that the Brexit deal on the North means "full alignment" with EU trade rules, writes Political Correspondent Juno McEnroe from Brussels.

Following a week of doubt expressed around the deal on the North and regulations both North and South and East and West, Mr Varadkar dispelled any doubt on what EU leaders will agree tomorrow.

Speaking at the EU summit of leaders in Brussels today, he said:

"In terms of maintaining full alignment, our view is that is very strong language. Maintain means keep as it is. Full means full not partial and alignment means keep in line.

"In terms of European law, alignment exists in the context of the accession treaties, so when a country wants to join the EU, it is required to align its rules and regulations with the EU before it can join. What we are saying is that in the backstop scenario for the UK and Northern Ireland, maintaining full alignment with the single market and customs union, that is the backstop arrangement."

But Mr Varadkar also expressed empathy with Mrs May after the Tory government lost a vote on its Withdrawal Bill in the House of Commons, which means a final deal must be approved by MPs.

“I know and understand that prime minister May has a tough job. She is leading a minority government supported by a confidence and supply arrangement. I can identify with that because that is exactly what I am doing, I am leading a minority government supported by a confidence and supply agreement.

"But I have absolute faith and confidence in her that she speaks for the government of the UK so long as that is the case, as long as she is prime minister, we will deal with her as though she had an overall majority."

The summit will see Ms May speak to leaders this evening at a special dinner before the 27 members tomorrow vote and agree on moving onto phase two of the Brexit talks, which will focus on a transition period for Britain's exit as well as a future trade deal with the bloc.

Earlier: Varadkar says 'time has come to allow Irish people have their say' on abortion

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said it is time the Irish people had their say on abortion.

Speaking in Brussels this afternoon while arriving at an EU summit, he said the government would now consider the outcome of an Oireachtas Committee recommendation to allow abortions for pregnancies up to 12 weeks.

However, Mr Varadkar stopped short of saying what the government’s position would be in next year’s referendum and whether it would campaign for a certain view.

“Both I and members of the government are going to spend the Christmas period understanding that [the report].

"We will then have a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party in early January where I’ll hear the views of the Fine Gael party and after that there will be a debate in the Dail and the government will discuss it.

“This a decision for the Irish people and I believe the time has come to allow Irish people have their say on this issue."

Mr Varadkar has previously expressed reservations about the Eighth Amendment, the Constitutional protection given to the unborn.

While Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the two biggest parties, say their TDs will be given a free vote or position on the issue, the government will come under pressure in the coming days to say whether or not ministers and the Taoiseach agree with the committee recommendations.

Mr Varadkar said the committee would publish its report next week but that it was important that debate on society on the issue was "respectful" ahead of next year’s vote.


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