Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned there is no fall-back position if the UK parliament rejects the draft Brexit divorce deal finally cleared by the bloc’s 28 governments after a year of delays.
“There isn’t a plan B. The truth is what we have here is the best deal that is available both for the United Kingdom and for the European Union,” Mr Varadkar said after the special summit in Brussels.
It took the EU leaders just 38 minutes to approve the 585-page legal Withdrawal Agreement and an accompanying 26-page declaration which will inform negotiations on a future EU-UK relationship over trade and other issues once Brexit kicks in.
The formal separation is set to take effect at 11pm Dublin time on March 29 next but a transition period means nothing will change until at least December 31, 2020, and it will very probably be extended by another one or two years.
There was an air of gloom at the EU conference centre in Brussels as the UK’s 46-year, frequently troubled relationship with the EU moved decisively towards the point of no return.
“Everybody around the table would like the UK to stay but we respect the decision they made in the referendum,” the Taoiseach said.
After UK voters decided on June 23, 2016, to leave the EU by 52 to 48pc, formal exit negotiations opened on March 29, 2017. Deadlines last March, June and October were missed but a deal has been reached in principle.
It is expected to be approved by the European Parliament in February. But by far the bigger challenge comes next month in the UK parliament where Prime Minister Theresa May faces huge opposition from both supporters of Brexit and advocates of the strongest possible links with the EU.
Over the weekend the Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 MPs have been keeping Mrs May’s minority government in office, intensified their opposition on grounds that Northern Ireland is leaving the EU on different terms from England, Scotland and Wales.
Mr Varadkar said since it was clear the UK would not be staying in the EU, this deal was the next best thing from an Irish point of view. He insisted the agreement was the only one available and people should not seek alternatives options.
“Let’s not forget what we have here. We have an agreement that took between 18 months and two years to negotiate, it is in several parts, is over 500-pages long and as of today has the support of 28 governments,” the Taoiseach said.
“What’s on the table is the only deal that’s on the table,” he added – stressing that there was no room for re- negotiation.
The Taoiseach said the draft deal met all Ireland’s key interests. “It protects the peace, affirms the rights and freedoms of European, Irish and British citizens, ensures there will be no hard Border and also insulates our economy from major disruptions in trade,” Mr Varadkar said.
Doubts about the summit were banished on Saturday when a last-minute concern over the status of Gibraltar was resolved. But Mr Varadkar said planning for a no-deal scenario would continue.