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DUBLIN: Ireland is willing to examine ways in which a “backstop” to keep the Irish border open after Brexit could be reviewed so long as it does not permit Britain to unilaterally walk away from it, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Monday.

The sides in the negotiations have signalled progress on agreeing customs arrangements for an emergency Irish border fix but differences persist on the lifespan of the so-called “backstop”.

British Prime Minister Theresa May raised the possibility of a review mechanism for the backstop in a phone call on Monday with Varadkar that she had sought to update him on the current state of the talks, the Irish government said in a statement.

“The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) 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,” the statement said.

“He recalled the prior commitments made that the backstop must apply ‘unless and until’ alternative arrangements are agreed.” May told Varadkar that there would need to be a mechanism through which the backstop could be brought to an end, a spokesman from her office said in a statement.

The phone call followed a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that May’s Brexit Minister Dominic Raab had privately demanded the right to pull Britain out of the backstop after three months.

Varadkar separately told reporters that an expiry date of that nature would not be worth the paper it is written on.

With just five months until Britain is due to exit the EU, May has yet to nail down a divorce deal, with the Irish border insurance arrangement to keep open the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member state Ireland still the outstanding issue.

Cautious optimism that a deal between the EU and London may be in the offing has also been dampened by uncertainty over whether such an agreement would pass the British parliament.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney had earlier said that neither Ireland nor the EU would ever sign up to a an agreement that could be ended unilaterally.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2018

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