Ireland yesterday told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he must make specific proposals on the future of the Irish border if there is to be any hope of averting a no-deal Brexit, saying Dublin cannot not rely on simple promises.
The blunt remarks by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar indicate the difficulty of Johnson’s gamble of using the threat of a no-deal exit to convince Germany and France that they must rewrite an exit agreement struck in November last year.
With Brexit mired in crisis, Johnson yesterday was also due to seek a general election that the British Parliament has so far refused to grant him.
Instead, lawmakers want to force Johnson to seek a delay to the Oct. 31 exit date: A bill that aims to rule out a no-deal Brexit was due to become law yesterday.
Johnson promised when he took office in July that he would finally achieve the Brexit that Britain voted for in a 2016 referendum, taking the country out of the bloc by Oct. 31 with or without a withdrawal agreement to smooth the transition.
On arrival in Dublin for talks, Johnson said he did not want a no-deal exit: He said he wanted a deal at the Oct. 17 and 18 EU summit, and had border ideas to present to Dublin, but that the UK would leave the bloc by Oct. 31.
“In the absence of agreed alternative arrangements, no backstop is no deal for us,” Varadkar, standing beside Johnson outside the Irish government, told reporters.
“We are open to alternatives, but they must realistic ones, legally binding and workable, and we haven’t received such proposals to date,” Varadkar said.
“What we cannot do and will not do, and I know you understand this, is agree to the replacement of a legal guarantee with a promise,” he said, adding there was no such thing as a clean break, as talks would stretch on for years.
The 500km land border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland has always been the biggest stumbling block for an orderly Brexit.
The Withdrawal Agreement that former British prime minister Theresa May struck in November with the EU includes an “Irish backstop” and says the UK would remain in a customs union “unless and until” alternative arrangements are found to avoid a hard border.
However, the agreement was rejected three times by parliament, as many British lawmakers oppose the prospect of being bound to EU rules and customs duties that would prevent the UK doing its own trade deals and leave it overseen by EU judges.
Varadkar warned that even if a deal was struck, agreeing a future free-trade agreement would be a “Herculean” task for Johnson.
Although Ireland is only about an eighth of the size of the UK’s US$2.8 trillion economy, Dublin is backed by the rest of the EU whose economy — minus the UK — is worth US$15.9 trillion.
With no majority in parliament, which is determined to prevent what many businesses fear would be a calamitous no-deal Brexit, Johnson wants to hold an election to keep his promise of leaving by Oct. 31.
He was to put forward a motion in parliament yesterday to propose an election, but it would require the support of two-thirds of lawmakers.
Opposition parties had said they would not agree to an election until a no-deal exit is ruled out.
In London, Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, confirmed that the government would suspend the British Parliament from last night until Oct. 14.
Additional reporting by AP
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