Taoiseach to hold talks with Merkel as bill to further delay Brexit clears by one vote
TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar will hold Brexit talks with German leader Angela Merkel in Dublin today.
Mr Varadkar will host Ms Merkel at Farmleigh House in the capital where their discussions are set to focus on the latest developments ahead of the special European Council meeting next week.
Prior to their formal sit-down the leaders will take part in round-table discussions with people from Northern Ireland and the border area about their views on the UK's withdrawal from the EU.
It comes as efforts intensify to find a way through the Brexit impasse.
Last night, proposals to further delay the date of Brexit moved closer to becoming law after they squeaked through the Commons by one vote.
MPs supported the European Union Bill at third reading by 313 votes to 312.
The draft legislation tabled by Labour former minister Yvette Cooper requires Prime Minister Theresa May to table a motion seeking MPs' approval for an extension to the Article 50 process beyond 12 April.
On Thursday, Mrs May held talks with Jeremy Corbyn which the Labour leader described as “useful but inconclusive”.
The meeting sparked fury among some Conservatives, with two ministers quitting Mrs May’s Government and a string of backbenchers voicing their anger during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.
It followed Mrs May’s dramatic announcement that she was willing to reach out across the political divide to find a deal allowing her to obtain a short delay to Brexit at an emergency EU summit on April 10.
Mr Corbyn said the meeting in the PM’s Commons office was “useful but inconclusive”, adding: “There has not been as much change as I expected”. But in formal statements, both sides described the talks as “constructive”.
A Labour spokesman said: “We have had constructive exploratory discussions about how to break the Brexit deadlock.
And Downing Street said: “The talks were constructive, with both sides showing flexibility and a commitment to bring the current Brexit uncertainty to a close.
Mrs May has said she hopes to find a solution which both leaders can support, or failing that, a system of indicative votes which both will recognise as binding.
Finance minister Philip Hammond said that Britain will ask the European Union for a Brexit delay that gives the option to leave as soon as a divorce deal is approved by parliament.
"The important thing now is that in any extension that we get from the EU, we have an absolute clarity that as soon as we've done the deal, we are able to bring that extension to an end," Hammond told ITV.
"So it's less about the nominal length of time of the extension and more about the mechanism for bringing it to an end once the deal is done," he said. "That would be our expectation."
Meanwhile, Senior DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson appeared to hold out the prospect of the party supporting Britain's membership of a post-Brexit customs union.
"We would have preferred a form of Brexit that enables the UK to negotiate new trade agreements with other countries," Jeffrey Donaldson, a Democratic Unionist Party lawmaker, was quoted as saying by BBC Northern Ireland Political Correspondent Enda McClafferty.
"That is part of the reason for Brexit and maybe a customs union might be a temporary staging post towards that objective," Donaldson was quoted as saying.