Saturday 24 August 2019

May courts Labour to seek extension for UK's departure as Varadkar says border down Irish Sea back on the table


Softening of her terms: UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Jack Taylor/PA Wire
Softening of her terms: UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Jack Taylor/PA Wire
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Theresa May will hold cross-party talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a bid to break the Brexit logjam, delaying the UK's departure from the EU.

Mr Corbyn last night indicated he was happy to sit down with the British prime minister, even though "so far she hasn't shown much sign of compromise".

The development could sideline the DUP, which has held the balance of power in Westminster and helped make the Border backstop such a contentious issue.

Last night the DUP said Mrs May' announcement came as "little surprise". "Though it remains to be seen if sub-contracting out the future of Brexit to Jeremy Corbyn, someone whom the Conservatives have demonised for four years, will end happily," it added.

Mrs May said she needs to ask the EU for a second extension - but one that is "as short as possible" to avoid leaving the EU without a deal on the withdrawal terms.

It came as the Taoiseach and French president also had a "detailed" debate on the value of granting a further Brexit extension to the UK.

Mrs May's announcement outside 10 Downing Street followed a seven-hour Cabinet meeting that could dramatically change Brexit.

She also announced a significant softening of her Brexit terms, including trying to make an accord with the political opposition.

Her statement comes amid mounting concern that the country will leave the EU on April 12. That's the deadline the EU's 27 remaining countries gave for leaving the bloc or coming up with a new plan.

The House of Commons on Monday threw out four alternatives to Mrs May's Brexit deal, and rejected other options last week after defeating her deal a third time.

European Council President Donald Tusk is urging the EU to be patient as it considers its response to Mrs May's offer to compromise on her divorce deal. "Even if, after today, we don't know what the end result will be, let us be patient," he said.

The possibility of an extension was discussed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris yesterday. Mr Macron is extremely wary of allowing the EU to be "held hostage" by the chaotic events in Westminster.

He said a lengthy extension would require a major shift in policy such as a general election, second referendum or a softening of UK attitudes towards remaining in the customs union.

"A long extension, implying UK takes part in European elections and European institutions, has nothing easy or automatic about it. I say that again here very strongly. Our priority must be the good working of the EU and the single market," he said.

The Taoiseach is understood to have urged his counterpart to keep an open mind to an extension rather than be seen to chase the UK out of the EU.

He confirmed afterwards that the Irish preference is for the existing Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, to be ratified - but if that can't happen an extension is the next option.

"But we can't have a rolling extension, there would have to be a clear purpose and conditionality to it," he said.

"There is no guarantee that the UK will get an extension at all, bear in mind an extension requires unanimity and any one of 27 countries could block an extension."

Yet in a clear swipe at Westminster, Mr Macron warned: "If the UK isn't capable - almost three years after the referendum - of putting forward a solution that gets a majority, it will have decided itself, de facto, to leave without a deal."

The two leaders also discussed what will happen at the Irish Border in the event of a no-deal.

A fresh battle between the UK and Ireland is looming after Mr Varadkar insisted a border down the Irish Sea is back on the table. Mr Varadkar is canvassing support among European leaders for an approach that ensures no hard border on the island.

Irish Independent

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