March 12, 2019 / 8:51 AM / 7 days ago

Irish PM: Brexit backstop not undermined by additional assurances

Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar speaks at a European Financial Forum event in Dublin, Ireland February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Legally binding assurances on Brexit that Britain won from the European Union do not undermine the backstop or its application in avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday.

British Prime Minister May signed up to three documents after last-ditch talks on Monday which she said were aimed at addressing the most contentious part of the divorce deal she agreed in November - the Irish backstop.

British lawmakers will vote later on Tuesday on whether to ratify the withdrawal agreement, just 17 days before the country is due to leave the European Union.

“It does not reopen the withdrawal agreement or undermine the backstop or its application. It says we will work together in good faith in pursuit of a future relationship that ensures the objectives of the protocol, particularly the need to avoid a hard border, are met,” Varadkar said in a televised address.

“I hope and trust the withdrawal agreement will now be passed by the House of Commons.”

British lawmakers were told the joint instrument agreed by May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker “reduces the risk” that the United Kingdom would be trapped in the backstop.

“These doubts and fears can now be put to bed,” Varadkar said.

He said that while the instrument committed 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.

“In many ways Brexit has been a dark cloud.... A positive vote tonight can remove that cloud and restore confidence and optimism in Britain, Ireland and across the European Union,” Varadkar said.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries; editing by John Stonestreet

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