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Boris attempts 'warm' Brexit talks with Ireland's Leo Varadkar


Press Trust of India London
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday had an important exchange over Brexit with Ireland's Indian-origin Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, who is crucial to an agreement on Britain's exit from the European Union (EU).
Downing Street said the phone call between the two leaders, the first since Johnson took charge as UK PM, underscored their commitment to working closely together in the spirit of the "warm and deep relationship between the UK and Ireland."

With Ireland, an EU member-country, sharing a border with the UK region of Northern Ireland, the issue of post-Brexit border arrangements have proved the major stumbling block to finalising the UK's withdrawal agreement with the EU.
The so-called "Irish backstop" proposed by the 28-member economic bloc as an insurance policy against any physical barriers between the two regions has proved the most controversial aspect of the divorce arrangement, ultimately resulting in Theresa May's departure as prime minister.
"On Brexit, the Prime Minister made clear that the UK will be leaving the EU on October 31, no matter what," read the Downing Street statement in reference to Johnson's first phone call with the Irish prime minister, referred to as the Irish Taoiseach.
He reportedly told Varadkar that in all scenarios, the UK government will be "steadfast in its commitment" to the Belfast Agreement of power-sharing in the region and will never put physical checks or physical infrastructure on the border that could threaten the peace process achieved in a historically volatile region.
The Belfast or Good Friday Agreement was a peace agreement between the British and Irish governments, and most of the political parties in Northern Ireland after years of violence over British control which left 3,500 people dead.
"The Prime Minister made clear that the government will approach any negotiations which take place with determination and energy and in a spirit of friendship, and that his clear preference is to leave the EU with a deal, but it must be one that abolishes the backstop," Downing Street said.
Johnson, who has described the backstop as "anti-democratic" due to its provisions for the UK to remain closely aligned to the EU for an indefinite period, won the leadership contest on the basis of its complete rejection.
However, Varadkar has remained categorical in the past that the backstop was essential in order to secure Ireland's best interests.
"On Brexit, the Taoiseach emphasised to the Prime Minister that the backstop was necessary as a consequence of decisions taken in the UK and by the UK government," an Irish government statement said

"Noting that the Brexit negotiations take place between the UK and the EU, the Taoiseach explained that the EU was united in its view that the withdrawal agreement could not be reopened," the Irish statement said, reflecting the EU's firm refusal to renegotiate any new divorce bill with Johnson.
The new British PM has set himself on a collision course with the EU by refusing to hold meetings until they agree to reopen talks on Theresa May's withdrawal agreement, which was rejected three times by the UK Parliament. He has charged his new Cabinet team to intensify preparations for a feared chaotic no-deal Brexit while he undertaking a tour of the different parts that make up the United Kingdom, covering Scotland and Wales so far.
According to Downing Street, a visit to Northern Ireland is next on the cards, where he will hold talks with the leaders of the main political parties over Brexit. Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) provides his Conservative-led government with 10 key MPs to make up his parliamentary majority.
Johnson has made a do or die pledge to take the UK out of the EU by the October 31 deadline, raising the prospect of a no-deal Brexit which has been cited as one of the factors behind recent falls in the Pound. Opposition and business leaders remain vehemently opposed to such a scenario, warning of adverse impacts on the economy in the event of leaving the EU without an agreement in place.

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First Published: Jul 30 2019 | 8:00 PM IST

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