Published: Tue, November 06, 2018
World News | By Sandy Lane

British attorney general joins Brexit "war cabinet"

British attorney general joins Brexit

On Monday, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Dublin was willing to examine ways in which the backstop could be reviewed, so long as it does not permit Britain to unilaterally walk away from it, a move his European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee said on Tuesday could help move the talks forward.

A No10 spokesman said the British and Irish leaders had agreed the backstop would "a temporary arrangement", but May had emphasised that there would need to be "a mechanism through which the backstop could be brought to an end".

A Downing Street spokesman said May and Varadkar agreed "the intention was that the backstop should only be a temporary arrangement".

"Anything that weakens or softens the Irish Government's position as to the baseline protections that we need is something to be avoided", she said.

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Michel Barnier was speaking as Theresa May briefed the Cabinet on her plans to achieve a breakthrough in time to secure a special Brexit summit to seal an agreement in November.

This was to be a "backstop" insurance clause in the Brexit treaty, to be triggered if, by the end of a status-quo transition period, no better way had been agreed to keep the Irish border operating more or less as it does now.

At the same time, it reported that the Prime Minister was on course to agree a future economic partnership that would leave open the possibility of Canada-style free trade deal sought by Brexiteers.

Asked if Labour would vote against a customs union option unless it was permanent, Mr McDonnell told BBC2's Newsnight: "Yeah, I think so, because... we'll see what she comes back with and we will be straight and honest with people, if it doesn't protect jobs and the economy we can't support it".

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The EU had wanted to impose a Northern Ireland-only backstop, in which the region would remain in the single market and customs union, but May wants Brussels to accept an alternative UK-wide customs backstop, to avoid creating an invisible customs border in the Irish Sea.

The DUP is opposed to a Northern Ireland-specific backstop, since, if it came into effect, it would require Northern Ireland to be more closely aligned with the EU's customs and trade rules than the rest of the UK.

"We are making good progress on the future relationship, and 95% of the Withdrawal Agreement has been settled". But London wants the backstop to be provisional rather than permanent, while the European Union resists any suggestion it could expire. After meeting on Friday with Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney in Dublin, British Prime Minister Theresa May's deputy David Lidington said negotiators were "very close" to an agreement.

But ministers are now insisting that the backstop agreement must contain a mechanism for the United Kingdom to terminate the backstop without the agreement of the EU.

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Parliament would then vote on the deal in December.

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