Northern Ireland

Brexit: Robert Buckland cautious over 'sensitive talks'

Solicitor General Robert Buckland was answering MPs' questions on Brexit negotiations
Image caption Solicitor General Robert Buckland was answering MPs' questions on Brexit negotiations

It would be "reckless and irresponsible" to give a running commentary on changes the UK is seeking to the Northern Ireland backstop, a government minister has said.

Solicitor General Robert Buckland was answering MPs on "sensitive" Brexit negotiations taking place with the EU.

Prime Minister Theresa May is due to travel to Brussels on Wednesday.

She will have talks with the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Ahead of the meeting, a commission spokesman has issued a fresh warning that the withdrawal agreement, which contains the backstop arrangement, will not be reopened.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is due to give a speech on what changes to the backstop are needed in order to win UK parliamentary approval.

It is not clear when that will take place.

Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Nigel Dodds told MPs that it was "scaremongering" to suggest a hard border could emerge in the event of no deal.

"Anyone who knows anything about Irish politics knows that no Irish government will introduce a hard border on the island of Ireland - that's the reality of the situation," he said.

Mr Dodds said that some of the rhetoric coming from the Irish government and others was "bringing about the very thing they say they want to avoid".

Ports and airports

Speaking in the Dáil (Irish parliament), Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that while his government is working towards a 29 March Brexit deadline, "that may not be achievable".

Mr Varadkar said the date "is a UK deadline" and that he had raised the possibility of Article 50 being extended with the prime minister.

But he added that Mrs May reiterated her view that the UK would leave the EU on that date.

He said his government had yet to see "alternative arrangements" to the backstop and is making plans for ports and airports in the event of a no deal Brexit, but not at the border.

The taoiseach also said the current environment in Northern Ireland makes it very difficult to restore the devolved institutions.

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