In Brief

Johnson and Varadkar clash over Irish backstop in phone call

Taoiseach tells Johnson that EU will not scrap backstop as part of reopening Brexit talks

Boris Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have clashed over the Irish backstop during their first phone call.

According to reports, Varadkar told the new British prime minister that the European Union is unanimous in the view that the backstop cannot be scrapped and the withdrawal agreement will not be reopened.

But Johnson took an opposing stance, reiterating his position that he will only agree to a Brexit deal that “abolishes” the backstop. This is, the BBC says, something that both Dublin and Brussels have “refused to consider”.

Johnson is also reported to have told Varadkar that the British government “will never put physical checks or physical infrastructure” on the Irish border “in all scenarios” after Brexit.

A spokesperson for the Irish leader 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.”

The spokesman added: “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.”

Moving forward, Varadkar also invited Johnson to Dublin to continue their discussions on Brexit, and also to chew over ongoing efforts to restore a power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland.

Downing Street’s account of the call did not reference a possible trip to Dublin, but the pair were said to have “agreed to stay in contact” while Johnson was “looking forward to visiting Northern Ireland shortly”.

Although Number 10’s account of the call did not make any reference a potential trip to Dublin, the two leaders were said to have “agreed to stay in contact” while Johnson was “looking forward to visiting Northern Ireland shortly”.

The Guardian says the conversation was set to be tense from the start as Johnson “had been accused of snubbing Varadkar by leaving it so long to speak to him,” despite the Irish leader being “central” to Brexit progress.

It was pointed out at the weekend that Johnson had already spoken to five leaders around the world including US President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.

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