Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar has told Theresa May the United Kingdom will not be allowed to unilaterally pull out of any Brexit backstop.
In a phone call on Monday, Varadkar said he would consider proposals for a “review mechanism” that could dissolve the safety net – the UK would not be allowed to trigger it alone.
An Irish Government spokeswoman said: “The Taoiseach indicated an openness to consider proposals for a review, provided that it was clear that the outcome of any such review could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop.”
A Downing Street spokesman said May and Varadkar agreed “the intention was that the backstop should only be a temporary arrangement”.
“In order to ensure that the backstop, if ever needed, would be temporary, the prime minister said that there would need to be a mechanism through which the backstop could be brought to an end,” the spokesman added.
The phone call between the two leaders came after Dominic Raab reportedly privately demanded the right to unilaterally end the backstop.
According to The Daily Telegraph, the Brexit secretary “stunned” Irish officials with the suggestion.
Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, made clear on Monday morning that this would never be agreed.
EU deputy chief Brexit negotiator Sabine Weyand moved quickly to support Coveney. “Still necessary to repeat this, it seems,” she said.
Brexit talks have been deadlocked over the so-called backstop – the fallback position that would be activated if a future EU-UK trade deal does not produce a solution that would prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Under the EU’s proposal, Northern Ireland would remain in the customs union and in the single market for goods.
But this has been rejected by London, as it would see customs checks take place between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
It has been reported that Theresa May is close to striking a backstop deal with Brussels which would keep the entire UK in a customs union.
The problem for the prime minister is a significant number of Tory MPs are not prepared to accept any backstop that does not have a time-limit. While the EU has refused to accept a backstop that does have a time-limit.
On Monday former foreign secretary Boris Johnson again denounced a mooted deal with the EU as an “absolute stinker” and urged MPs to reject it.
May is expected to brief the Cabinet on progress in talks when members gather for their weekly meeting at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday.