Taoiseach tells new PM in first chat that EU will not scrap it as part of reopening Brexit talks
Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar have clashed over the Irish backstop in their first phone call, with the Irish taoiseach saying the EU is united in the view that it cannot be scrapped and the withdrawal agreement will not be reopened.
Johnson finally spoke to Varadkar almost a week after becoming prime minister, telling him the UK would never put physical checks or infrastructure at the border with Northern Ireland after Brexit but demanding the backstop be scrapped.
The British prime minister had been accused of snubbing Varadkar by leaving it so long to speak to him, even though the Irish leader will be central to whether he can agree a new withdrawal deal with the EU.
A spokesman for Varadkar said: The taoiseach emphasised to the prime minister that the backstop was necessary as a consequence of decisions taken in the UK and by the UK government.
Noting that the Brexit negotiations take place between the UK and the EU, the taoiseach explained that the EU was united in its view that the withdrawal agreement could not be reopened.
Alternative arrangements could replace the backstop in the future, as envisaged in the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on the future relationship, but thus far satisfactory options have yet to be identified and demonstrated.
An Irish government spokesman added: The taoiseach restated the need for both governments to be fully committed to the Good Friday agreement, the protection of the peace process and the restoration of the Northern Ireland institutions.
He recalled that the agreement requires the sovereign government to exercise power with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in full respect for their rights, equality, parity of esteem and just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities.
Varadkar invited Johnson to Dublin for further talks on Brexit.
A No 10 spokesman said both leaders committed to a warm and deep relationship between Ireland and the UK.
But Johnson made clear his view the UK would be leaving the EU on 31 October regardless of whether a deal has been struck and that any new agreement must be one that abolishes the backstop.
Varadkar has ruled out a deal without the backstop, which Eurosceptic Tory MPs refused to vote for because they argued it could indefinitely trap the UK in a customs union after the end of the transitional period.
The Republic of Ireland regards the backstop as integral to preventing a return to a hard border with Northern Ireland if new customs arrangements have not been put in place by the time the UK leaves.
The No 10 spokesman said: On Brexit, the prime minister made clear that the UK will be leaving the EU on October 31, no matter what.
He said that in all scenarios, the government will be steadfast in its commitment to the Belfast agreement and will never put physical checks or physical infrastructure on the border.
Johnson has not yet put forward a clear proposal for replacing the backstop but some senior Tory MPs believe the solution lies in alternative arrangements, whereby hi-tech customs checks could be conducted away from the border.