Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned Mr Johnson he may follow Theresa May in failing to push a Brexit deal through Parliament. And his deputy Simon Coveney said Northern Ireland cannot have a veto over the “backstop” as demanded by the DUP.
The Prime Minister is drawing up a plan to rewrite the backstop so that Northern Ireland keeps a host of EU regulations – preventing a hard border with the Republic of Ireland – while Great Britain diverges.
But the DUP responded furiously to claims that the party, whose 10 votes could be crucial if a Brexit deal comes back to the Commons, is willing to soften its red lines and accept a de-facto border in the Irish Sea.
Leader Arlene Foster said the reports were nonsense, adding: “UK must leave as one nation. We are keen to see a sensible deal but not one that divides the internal market of the UK. We will not support any arrangements that create a barrier to east-west trade.”
Party bosses have told allies they are willing to accept a solution where Northern Ireland accepts EU rules in some sectors such as agriculture but does not copy Brussels regulations wholesale, i understands. But the DUP would probably require a veto on new regulations to ensure it is not forced to change its laws without any control over the process.
Mr Coveney suggested this would be impossible, saying: “There is certainly a concern at an EU level that a devolved institution could have a veto on how the single market operates. So it’s not as straightforward as some people are suggesting.
He added: “We don’t have detail of proposals that have come forward from the British Government. I mean, there essentially aren’t detailed proposals in writing, which has been a source of real frustration.”
Mr Varadkar, who met Mr Johnson for the first time this week, also piled on the pressure – saying the Prime Minister could struggle to get a deal through Parliament even if he does pull off a last-minute victory in talks with the EU.
He told Virgin Media News: “I certainly believe he would prefer to leave with a deal than without a deal, but the difficulty is: I’m not sure that he will be able to make the compromises that are necessary to secure a deal.
“We saw how difficult that was for Prime Minister May, the compromises she had to make – we had to make compromises too – and ultimately she was unable to get that deal through the House of Commons. The numbers for Boris Johnson are even tougher.”
He added that “the gap is very wide” on reaching a deal despite Mr Johnson’s recent concessions to the idea of checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister is adamant the backstop must be stripped from the Withdrawal Agreement or he will never agree to it. But replacing it with a rebranded border arrangement which keeps the UK out of the EU’s customs union may be enough for Mr Johnson.
The backstop contained in the Withdrawal Agreement thrashed out by Theresa May states that in the absence of any other solution to keep the Irish border open, the whole UK should stay in the EU’s customs union indefinitely with Northern Ireland adopting many of the single market’s rules.
The idea is unacceptable to Boris Johnson and other Brexiteers because it would stop the UK from striking trade deals outside Europe. How likely? 1/5
The Prime Minister’s favoured replacement for the existing backstop has been characterised as an “all-Ireland” solution.
It would involve Northern Ireland keeping EU regulations on goods and agriculture while Great Britain goes its own way, leading to some checks on trade across the Irish Sea. But the whole UK would leave the customs union.
Despite EU scepticism, it is the only idea being seriously discussed for the moment. How likely? 3/5
Tory MPs insist that “alternative arrangements” can solve the border issue by making checks unnecessary even if the UK and the Republic of Ireland are operating completely different customs and regulatory regimes.
Goods would be monitored electronically using new technology. Brussels and Dublin are adamant the required tech does not yet exist. How likely? 2/5
While both the UK and EU are currently talking tough, any solution that both sides agree is better than no-deal will probably end up being acceptable.
One possibility would see Northern Ireland agree informally to follow European regulations and tariff regimes so that while the border was controlled in theory, in practice the checks would never take place. How likely? 4/5
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