Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has thrown down the gauntlet to the UK to come up with a workable solution to the Brexit impasse before it’s too late to stop a no-deal scenario.
With talks in Brussels running into difficulty, the Taoiseach said Ireland had offered everything it can to help the situation.
His position is backed up by EU chiefs who are also piling the pressure on Britain ahead of a nervy weekend of talks.
The “difficult” discussions are now expected to go down to the wire – but UK Prime Minister Theresa May will need something to present to her parliament at least 24 hours before the so-called ‘meaningful vote’ takes place on Tuesday.
Frustration is mounting on both sides with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, reportedly complaining the UK had produced “a legal solution to a political problem”.
Mr Varadkar indicated Ireland will not budge when it comes to the legal definition of the backstop contained in the Withdrawal Agreement.
The ‘Irish Protocol’ outlines how the EU and UK customs regulations will remain closely aligned in order to prevent a hard Border “unless and until” an alternative way of achieving this is found.
However, UK attorney general Geoffrey Cox warned MPs this could see the country “trapped” indefinitely and limit the scope for striking new trade deals around the world.
Asked what concessions Ireland could make to ease British concerns, Mr Varadkar expressed surprise that people were calling on his Government to give any further ground. “I often wonder why people are asking us to make further concessions, we’ve made a lot of concessions already – accepting a UK-wide element to the backstop when we only ever wanted it to be Northern Ireland specific.
“We never asked to tie-in Britain into any of these arrangements. We’ve already agreed to a review clause and a good faith clause,” he said.
“This problem of Brexit, a hard Border on our island with disruption to trade and our economy, these are problems created in Britain.
“Surely they are the ones who should be coming forward with further concessions and further offers to us in terms of what more they can do to mitigate the damage they are creating.”
The Irish Independent revealed yesterday that a ‘package of measures’ is being teased out in Brussels, including a timeline for assessing alternatives to the backstop.