Ministers to return for late-night Brexit talks after cabinet meeting adjourned

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Ministers to return for late-night Brexit talks after cabinet meeting adjourned
Ministers to return for late-night Brexit talks after cabinet meeting adjourned

Government ministers will be hauled back into a late night emergency cabinet meeting after 10.30pm tonight due to fears Britain could undermine two years of Brexit talks by seeking a “unilateral” right to walk away from the backstop.

Sources told the Irish Examiner the late night discussions will take place in Dublin city centre just after 10.30pm tonight after a two-hour emergency cabinet meeting was earlier adjourned.

Despite holding an earlier scheduled general cabinet meeting this morning, ministers who were preparing to travel across the globe for the St Patrick’s day festivities were ordered back to Government Buildings for an emergency cabinet meeting at 6.45pm.

This was because of major developments on Brexit, with British prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker preparing to meet for last ditch talks in Strasbourg.

It is understood these talks centred on three points:

  • Confirmation the withdrawal agreement will not be re-opened
  • An agreed joint statement between the EU and the UK on how to interpret the backstop
  • British demands to be able to “unilaterally” walk away from the backstop

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave an update on developments in the preceding hours when the emergency cabinet meeting began at 6.45pm.

After discussions described as “full and frank, with lots of interaction” from ministers, he then adjourned cabinet at 7.45pm to take a phone call from European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker.

During this phone call Mr Juncker updated Mr Varadkar on his initial discussions with British prime minister Theresa May.

The Taoiseach returned to inform ministers of the updated situation, saying there are no concerns about the withdrawal agreement changing or an agreed joint statement on how to interpret the backstop.

However, he said Britain wants to be able to publish a “unilateral” declaration on their view of the backstop which the Government has yet to see – an issue that could cause serious problems for Ireland’s Brexit safety.

A source told the Irish Examiner this is a key concern, as the wording has the potential to undermine two years of Brexit talks.

The Government decided at approximately 8.30pm to adjourn the emergency cabinet meeting until 10.30pm in order to allow time for Mr Juncker and Ms May’s talks in Strasbourg to conclude.

However, it is understood Government ministers will be given a likely agreed wording of the “unilateral” declaration on the backstop the UK is seeking before the cabinet returns tonight, leading to yet another make or break Brexit moment.

One source said while it is “too early to say if a deal is here, you could see a direction towards a deal and further progress tonight”.

As the political drama took place in Dublin, Ms May was understood to be preparing to give a statement just after 10pm in Strasbourg.

Similarly, the hard-line Brexiteer Conservative party group the European Research Group is meeting in London and DUP leader Arlene Foster is understood to be in London meeting senior Conservative party members and UK government officials.

The European parliament Brexit negotiation group is also believed to be meeting in Brussels to discuss the ongoing developments.

At the time of publication, the planned three days of Brexit votes in the House of Commons – existing deal on Tuesday, ruling out no deal on Wednesday and voting on a potential extension on Thursday – are still scheduled to take place.

Source: Full Feed