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Welcome: British Prime Minister Theresa May is greeted by Nabila Makram, Egyptian Minister of Immigration, in Sharm El-Sheikh. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty

Welcome: British Prime Minister Theresa May is greeted by Nabila Makram, Egyptian Minister of Immigration, in Sharm El-Sheikh. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty

Meeting: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives at the joint EU and Arab League summit at the International Congress Centre in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Photo: AFP

Meeting: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives at the joint EU and Arab League summit at the International Congress Centre in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Photo: AFP

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Welcome: British Prime Minister Theresa May is greeted by Nabila Makram, Egyptian Minister of Immigration, in Sharm El-Sheikh. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty

Brexit could be pushed back by up to two years as Theresa May’s diplomatic dash to the desert is unlikely to break the current impasse.

The embattled British prime minister has delayed a meaningful vote on her deal to March 12 at the latest, which would see parliament voting on the divorce package just over two weeks before the UK is scheduled to leave the EU.

European diplomats are currently teasing out several solutions to the crisis, including a so-called “technical delay” of Brexit for a short time.

But the idea of a 21-month delay has gained traction among senior officials, according to British newspaper reports.

This would allow the future trading relationship to be fleshed out, which would serve to override opposition to the backstop that has proved the major stumbling block to date.

Speaking at an EU-Arab summit in Egypt last night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar signalled that he was open to the idea of a Brexit delay, noting that March 29 is a “self-imposed deadline” by the British.

A source told the 'Guardian' newspaper that attempts to blame Ireland for a no-deal Brexit would "backfire", as the EU believes Ireland is being used as a proxy to tease out future trade issues.

Mr Varadkar's willingness to see a Brexit delay was backed up by Austria's chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who said if there was no agreement in London by the beginning of March, a postponement would be the best option.

Mrs May has been accused of running down the clock in a bid to force her deal through by deferring a key vote yet again.

The next "meaningful vote" will come after a series of votes in Westminster this week, one of which could see the parliament symbolically reject a no-deal scenario even if it means that Brexit has to be pushed back.

By re-organising the parliamentary calendar, Mrs May could be in a position to argue that it is her deal or a delay - and possibly a lengthy one - to Brexit.

The Taoiseach and senior EU figures have again underlined the idea that the withdrawal agreement can not be reopened, with Mr Varadkar warning that the EU is not "playing chicken".

"Mechanisms" to give the UK assurances over the temporary nature of the backstop are on the table, Mr Varadkar said.

Ireland can do little to help the UK if its government doesn't understand the need for the backstop "at this stage", he said.

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He will meet Mrs May on the fringes of the EU-Arab summit in Egypt - but any hopes of a 'deal in the desert' have been firmly buried.

In advance of talks with Mrs May, Mr Varadkar said the EU won't compromise on a deal that has already been agreed.

"We're not playing chicken, we're not playing poker. We are just standing by our position which has been solid from day one," he said.

Asked whether he was concerned the vote in Westminster will now take place within just two weeks of Brexit, Mr Varadkar said it made no difference. "The decision on when this vote happens in the House of Commons isn't under my control," he said, adding it "doesn't change anything from Ireland's point of view".

Mr Varadkar described March 29 as a "self-imposed deadline", suggesting again the EU would agree to a postponement if London seeks one.

"The position of the EU is the same as Ireland's position, is that the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, are not up for renegotiation.

"We're happy to discuss with the UK assurances that they may need to have further confidence if the backstop is ever applied, so we're happy to talk to them on that basis, to give them reassurance. However, we can't agree to something that would contradict the legal reality," Mr Varadkar said.

He repeated that there was no plan being developed for erecting a hard Border despite the "obligation to protect the integrity of our single market, which we are part of and intend to be a full member of".

Responding to comments by UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who claimed progress was being made on either a time-limit to the backstop or unilateral exit mechanism for the UK, the Taoiseach said if people don't understand that's not going to happen "I don't think there is any more I can do to help them".

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has accused the Taoiseach of using "childish" language which is adding to the deterioration of Anglo-Irish relations.

Last Friday, Mr Varadkar told his party's selection convention that Westminster was not the boss of other parliaments.

"It's very childish kind of stuff that we don't need to be doing. It's getting too serious for that," Mr Martin said yesterday.

Elsewhere at the EU-Arab summit, leaders discussed the migrant crisis.

Mr Varadkar said that Ireland will show solidarity with the EU countries most affected by the crisis, in the same way they are standing by us over Brexit.

"We're very keen to demonstrate solidarity with other EU countries. That means working to disrupt people-smuggling," he said.


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