Saturday 21 July 2018

EU plans for Brexit delay as talks stall on trade

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier

Shona Murray and Jon Stone

The European Union has made preparations for the possibility of Brexit being postponed, as talks with Britain appear less likely to reach a conclusion in time.

Two of the EU's most senior leaders will be here next week to talk about solutions to the border issue.

But internal documents drawn up by Brussels show what is planned "in the event that the United Kingdom is still a member state of the union" after March of next year.

Separately, EU officials have privately discussed the practicalities of extending Brexit talks, according to sources cited by the German newspaper Handelsblatt.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this week that there were "a number of different scenarios that could arise if we're in a 'no deal' situation" by March.

He acknowledged it "is possible to extend Article 50 to allow more time for negotiations to take place".

Article 50 talks are supposed to last exactly two years but can potentially be extended with the explicit and unanimous permission of all EU member states. Any significant extension could mean Britain will have to hold elections for the European Parliament in May next year.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has staked her reputation on leaving the bloc by 29 March 2019 and has repeatedly said that "no deal is better than a bad deal".

But the EU has said a withdrawal deal needs to be finalised before October this year to give it time to be ratified before the exit date. Talks are currently floundering on the issue of the Northern Ireland border and how to avoid controls reappearing after the UK leaves.

The EU hoped to solve the issue by the next European Council summit due later this month, but this now looks a long way off, in part because of rows in Ms May's own cabinet and party.

In Westminster, MPs including Tory rebels, are currently locked in a struggle with the British government over how big of a say parliament will have in the event of a no deal situation. MPs want a meaningful vote on the final deal, but the government is trying to strike a compromise arrangement that would merely see it consulted.

Meanwhile, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will join President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker on an official visit to Dublin next Thursday. The presence in Dublin of two out of three of the EU's most senior diplomats on Brexit will be significant given the knife-edge nature of Brexit talks ahead of the June summit at the end of the month.

The real British deadline to reach the threshold of significant progress on the Irish backstop is Wednesday - the day before the visit - due to the coordinated nature of EU Council meetings.

Paralysis and exhaustion from this weeks theatrics in the House of Commons mean Downing Street will have little to offer.

Irish and EU negotiators are prepared to assist the British expand on the proposals made last week - which suggest the UK remains in the customs union.

Irish Independent

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