May’s Brexit solution: ‘Having your cake and eating it’

Mr Varadkar and Mr Tusk lashed out at the British prime minister’s half-way house plan to end the Brexit customs union stalemate as the Taoiseach separately warned hard-line Brexiteers to “respect our vote” on the 20-year-old Good Friday Agreement.

In a bid to finally outline a coherent Brexit plan on Thursday, Ms May held a high-level Brexit cabinet committee meeting in Chequers to find a balance between a soft and hard departure from the EU.

Leaks yesterday indicated Ms May offered ministers a choice between three ‘baskets’ — ongoing EU rules alignment; the continuation of some EU regulations; or complete divergence involving either a hard Irish border or customs checks between the North and Britain, which the DUP opposes.

Ministers chose the middle option, which Downing St had hoped would end the stand-off when Ms May announces it next Friday.

However, that hope was shattered last night, after both Mr Varadkar and Mr Tusk insisted the plan will not be accepted.

“That [the British plan] is not a significant move away from having your cake and eating it, and that just isn’t possible,” Mr Varadkar told reporters in Brussels after an informal European Council meeting last night, describing the option as “cherry-picking”.

Mr Tusk was similarly dismissive, saying: “I am glad the UK government seems to be moving towards a more detailed position. However, I am afraid that the UK position today is based on pure illusion.”

Mr Varadkar hit out at hardline Brexiteers calling for the Good Friday Agreement to be scrapped as it is causing Brexit difficulties.

“I would say to them what they always say to us: Respect our vote. The UK voted 52-48% to leave the EU. [We voted] 94% for the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland and 71% in Northern Ireland,” Mr Varadkar said.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach admitted that he only found out last week that last December’s “bulletproof” Irish border agreement will not be included in the EU-UK withdrawal deal and will instead be relegated to a linked protocol.

Asked when he learned of the move, after the decision was leaked in recent days before the withdrawal deal’s wording is published, Mr Varadkar said “I suppose last week”.