Taoiseach Offers Assurances on Amending ‘Instrument’ to Withdrawal Agreement

12 March 2019

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar released a statement on 12 March at Government Buildings concerning the ‘Instrument’ on the Withdrawal Agreement which was last night agreed by Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. This document aims to provide an additional layer of interpretation, clarification and elaboration to the UK ahead of a further vote in Westminster this evening.    

The Taoiseach outlined how the ‘Instrument’ was “complementary” to the Withdrawal Agreement and that the latter “could not be rewritten”. With that, Mr Varadkar stated that the backstop agreement, whilst intended to be only temporary, must continue to apply unless and until it is replaced by future arrangements that can achieve the same objective, “namely, no hard border.”

The Taoiseach emphasised that the ‘Instrument’ “does not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, or undermine the backstop or its application.” Rather, the ‘Instrument’ provides that “we will work together, in good faith, in pursuit of a future relationship that ensures that the objectives of the Protocol, particularly the need to avoid a hard border, are met.” Although the ‘Instrument’ does commit the EU to exploring alternatives to the backstop should a future relationship between the two not be concluded in a satisfactory and timely manner, it did not call into question that the backstop will apply unless and until such arrangements are agreed.

Furthermore, Mr Varadkar commented that the dispute resolution mechanisms in the Withdrawal Agreement are further recalled in the ‘Instrument.’ Such mechanisms include, in the event of bad faith on the part of any party to the Agreement, the possibility of seeking a ruling from a panel of arbitrators.   

Finally, in relation to the fears of certain ‘Brexiteers’ and political parties alike that the Withdrawal Agreement sought to “trap the UK indefinitely in the backstop,” Mr Varadkar suggested that not only is that not the case, but that “those doubts and fears can now be put to bed.” The fact that the Withdrawal Agreement currently provides for a transitional period running to the end of 2020 during which period nothing will change, “is really important for exporters, businesses, employers, farmers and our fishermen” according to the Taoiseach. 

Despite the “dark cloud over us” which Brexit has been for many months, Mr Varadkar was optimistic that “A positive vote tonight can remove that cloud and restore confidence and optimism in Britain, Ireland and across the European Union.” Regardless of the vote however, he reminded the Irish public that; “no matter what happens,” Irish citizens in Northern Ireland will continue to be citizens of the European Union, and there will be a continuation of the Common Travel Area with free movement of people North and South and between Britain and Ireland.       

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