Varadkar and Martin aiming to avoid election with Brexit in the balance

Both sides are calling for stability as the threat of Brexit looms

Varadkar and Martin aiming to avoid election with Brexit in the balance

File photo of the Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin at the party’s think-in in Dublin, 11-09-2018. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

The Taoiseach has assured Fianna Fáil that his party wants to avoid any General Election while Brexit remains in the balance.

It comes after the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin wrote to Leo Varadkar calling for a public agreement that neither side would topple the Government before the terms of the UKs withdrawal from the EU are agreed.

This evening a spokesperson for the Mr Varadkar confirmed that Fine Gael is keen to avoid an election at such a delicate time for the negotiations.

He said securing a legal guarantee within the UKs Withdrawal Agreement that there can be no return to a hard border remains the Government’s overriding priority.

He said the best way to ensure that political stability remains while the negotiations are ongoing is to begin talks on an extension to the confidence and supply arrangement.

Mr Varadkar has previously indicated that he would like to see the arrangement extended until 2020.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

“Dangerous instability”

In his letter earlier this afternoon, Deputy Martin warned that holding elections while Brexit talks are entering their most critical phase would create “dangerous instability.”

Both men have agreed to meet next week to continue talks on a potential extension to the current arrangement.

When they do, they will each be dealing with their own difficulties.

Mr Varadkar is down a Minister, following the shock resignation of Denis Naughten yesterday.

His Government holds a painfully thin margin for victory when it comes to Dáil votes.

He needs 57 votes to be sure of passing anything – provided Fianna Fáil abstains as part of the confidence and supply agreement.

However the Government now only has 54 it can be certain of – meaning the votes of independent deputies Denis Naughten, Sean Canney and Michael Lowry, who support on a case-by-case basis, will be crucial.

Opposition limbo

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil have found themselves stuck in a kind of opposition limbo for the last two years, unable to fully attack a government they are keeping in power.

Deputy Martin will have to decide if an agreed 2020 election date is something his grassroots members can swallow.

However, neither party wants to be seen as the one that brought down the government on the eve of an event as potentially devastating as Brexit.