Saturday 25 May 2019

Britain to be given a year to fix Brexit plan

May prepares to hold EU election in move that will affect Irish seats

Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA
Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Another year of Brexit headlines lies ahead after both the UK and EU signalled an extension is now the only way forward.

The move will have major implications for the European election in May as Ireland was to get two extra seats in Brussels.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has formally asked for a new Brexit deadline to be set on June 30.

However, sources say European Council President Donald Tusk is to recommend that leaders demand a 'flexible extension' that runs until March 2020.

Solidarity with Ireland remains strong ahead of an emergency EU summit next Wednesday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week have been widely viewed as positive.

And in a further show of strength the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will travel to Dublin on Monday for meetings with the Taoiseach.

It comes as talks between British Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared to stall.

Mr Varadkar has indicated he wants the uncertainty to be ended with a lengthy extension rather than "a rolling cliff-edge, where there is an extension every month or two".

The Taoiseach said the current situation is "causing enormous uncertainty for citizens, businesses and the agri-food industry - and that needs to stop".

"None of us want no deal next week, certainly we don't want it, the UK doesn't want it, and Europe doesn't want it either," he said.

It is expected Mr Barnier will use his trip to Dublin to tease through the different scenarios with the Government before the summit.

The EU27 must reach a unanimous decision on whether to grant an extension - but currently a number of countries, including France, are understood to have reservations.

In a letter to Mr Tusk yesterday, the prime minister accepted that an extension will require her to hold European elections on May 23.

She promised her Government would undertake "the lawful and responsible preparations" for holding elections but asked these could be abandoned if the Withdrawal Agreement is passed by the House of Commons before then. If the UK holds elections it will dramatically change the context of the EU vote in Ireland. Two constituencies - Dublin and Ireland South - are due to get an extra MEP as a result of Brexit.

This will not happen if the UK retains its position in the European parliament. As part of its no-deal contingencies the Irish Government has passed legislation that would allow the final seats in both constituencies to go into 'cold storage' until the UK leaves.

Mr Macron has thus far seemed cagey about giving Britain more time, saying the EU cannot be held hostage by Britain's political failures.

There are also concerns in Europe that some British politicians who want to provoke a no-deal Brexit might try to make trouble from inside the bloc.

Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said yesterday that "if a long extension leaves us stuck in the EU, we should be as difficult as possible".

The Conservative Party lawmaker suggested using Britain's position to veto any EU budget increases, block the establishment of an EU army and make it impossible for Mr Macron to push further EU integration.

One EU diplomat said that there was rising concern among member states that they would not get "sincere co-operation" from Britain.

Irish Independent

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