Leo Varadkar today warned that the UK will not get a ‘clean break’ from the EU as tensions escalated.
The Irish PM insisted wrangling over the shape of relations will go on for a ‘long time’ – as he jibed that striking a divorce deal was not ‘guaranteed’.
Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon has renewed her calls for the whole UK to stay in the customs union if Brexit cannot be cancelled altogether.
The comments came at a meeting of the British-Irish council on the Isle of Mann today.
There have been growing signs that the two sides are close to an agreement on the withdrawal package.
Theresa May has held talks with Emmanuel Macron over lunch in the French town of Albert today before attending Armistice commemorations
Mrs May held talks with Emmanuel Macron – one of the EU leaders taking a hard line – over lunch in France today as she tries to secure a breakthrough.
But domestic pressure on Mrs May is mounting after the DUP – which is propping Mrs May up in power – claimed she is preparing to break her promise never to sign off a deal which risks splitting Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
The fury over the so-called ‘backstop’, intended to avoid a hard Irish border if no other trade arrangements can be found, risks derailing the negotiations at a critical stage.
Mr Varadkar said he was still hopeful a Brexit deal could be done by the end of the year but it would not amount to a ‘clean break’ as talks would have to continue.
‘I’m hopeful that it can be done in the next few weeks, I think it is more likely than not that we will be able to conclude an agreement in the next few weeks before the end of the year,’ he said.
‘But lots of things can go wrong and even if we can agree before the end of the year, bear in mind that what’s agreed will have to be ratified in Westminster, will also have to be ratified by the European Parliament.
‘Even when all of that is done, then we begin the talks on the future relationship. There is no clean break here, Brexit is going to go on for a very long time.’
At the British-Irish council today were (left to right) David Lidington, Isle of Mann chief minister Howard Quayle, Mr Varadkar and Ms Sturgeon
Speaking at the same event, Ms Sturgeon said that MPs should not be left in the position where voting down any deal Mrs May secures results in a no-deal Brexit.
The Scottish First Minister has previously stated that she would not vote for any deal that does not keep UK within the single market and the customs union.
It follows a vote on Holyrood on Wednesday that saw a majority of MSPs express their ‘unequivocal support’ for a referendum on the final terms of Brexit.
She said: ‘My preferred option all along, if the UK is leaving the EU, which I regret, is that it should seek to stay in the single market and the customs union, which would resolve along the way the issues around it, with the Northern Ireland/Republic border and the border between Ireland and Great Britain.’
What happens if Theresa May manages to get a Brexit deal ?
If Theresa May manages to overcome the final hurdle in divorce negotiations with the EU and get Cabinet approval for a deal, it is far from the end of the story.
Here is how events could develop once a draft agreement is reached.
Emergency EU Summit, Brussels, late November
If the divorce package is agreed between the two sides, it will need to be signed off by EU leaders.
EU council president Donald Tusk will convene a summit where formal approval will be given.
But UK sources expect that at this stage the package will not be fully formed, as the political declaration on the shape of future trade relations will not be complete.
While a rough draft of the declaration will be included, it will not be fleshed out until potentially weeks later. That could happen at a summit due on December 13-14.
The so-called ‘meaningful vote’ in the UK Parliament, December 2019
Assuming there is a withdrawal treaty and political declaration, the next stage is for the action is in the UK Parliament.
Mrs May promised Tory Remain rebels a ‘meaningful’ vote on the final deal in both the Commons and Lords.
The government wants this to be a simple yes or no vote on what she has negotiated – although both Remainers and Brexiteers have vowed to try to put down amendments.
This will be a high stakes moment. Brexiteers do not want to sign off the divorce bill without a satisfactory trade deal and Remainers are reluctant to vote for a blind Brexit.
But the Prime Minister insists it is deal or no deal: accept what she has negotiated or leave Britain crashing out on March 29, 2019 with no agreement in place.
If the meaningful vote is passed, there will be a series of further votes as the withdrawal treaty is written into British law.
After the meaningful vote in the UK, the EU will have to ratify the agreement. This is a two stage process.
National parliaments in all 27 countries have to vote on the deal. It does not need to pass everywhere but must be carried in at least 20 of the 27 countries, with Yes votes covering at least 65 per cent of the EU population.
The European Parliament must also vote in favour of the deal. It has a representative in the talks, Guy Verhofstadt, who has repeatedly warned the deal must serve the EU’s interests.
In practice, once the leaders of the 27 member states have agreed a deal, ratification on the EU side should be assured.
Exit day, March 29, 2019
At 11pm on March 29, 2019, Britain will cease to be a member of the European Union, two years after triggering Article 50 and almost three years after the referendum.
Exit happens at 11pm because it must happen on EU time.
If the transition deal is in place, little will change immediately – people will travel in the same way as today and goods will cross the border normally.
But Britain’s MEPs will no longer sit in the European Parliament and British ministers will no longer take part in EU meetings.
Negotiations will continue to turn the political agreement on the future partnership into legal text that will eventually become a second treaty. Both sides will build new customs and immigration controls in line with what this says.
Transition ends, December 2020
The UK’s position will undergo a more dramatic change at the end of December 2020, when the ‘standstill’ transition is due to finish.
If the negotiations on a future trade deal are complete, that could come into force.
But if they are still not complete the Irish border ‘backstop’ plan could be triggered.
Under current thinking, that means the UK staying in the EU customs union and more regulatory checks between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.
Eurosceptics fear this arrangement will prevent the country striking trade deals elsewhere, and could effectively last for ever, as Brussels will have no incentive to negotiate a replacement deal.