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Theresa May 'must explain why she wants Brexit delay' - says French minister as he declares support for Ireland

  • UK's May must explain any Brexit delay, Le Maire says
  • Finance Minister Donohoe calls potential extension 'important development'
  • Ireland and France to work on joint position on digital tax

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(Photo: Twitter/Paschal Donohoe)

(Photo: Twitter/Paschal Donohoe)

(Photo: Twitter/Paschal Donohoe)

British Prime Minister Theresa May will have to outline exactly why she wishes to delay Britain's exit from the European Union if her parliament demands she do so, France's finance minister said on Tuesday.

May on Tuesday offered MPs the chance to vote in two weeks for a potentially disorderly no-deal Brexit or to delay Britain's exit if her attempt to ratify a divorce agreement struck with the EU fails.

EU leaders have increasingly pushed May for an extension of the negotiating period. Three EU officials told Reuters on Tuesday that they would be ready to approve a short delay if Britain need more time to ensure parliamentary ratification.

"I just want to recall that there is an agreement. We believe this is a fair and a good agreement and it is up to the British government to assess the best way of adopting that agreement," Bruno Le Maire said at a joint news conference with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe during a visit to Dublin.

"If there is a call for an extension of Article 50 (negotiating period), we will have to understand what for. And once again it is up to the British government to explain to the member states of the EU what for."

Minister Paschal Donohoe said Dublin and Paris believed ratifying the divorce deal was "the best and only way forward". But Donohue added that Ireland would not block any potential extension, calling May's concession to pro-EU British lawmakers in her party an "important development".

Le Maire and Donohoe also discussed how companies' digital revenues should be taxed after a French-led effort to do so at a European level put them at opposite sides of the debate.

The French Government has pressured Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe to review how tech giants are taxed on revenues earned through online sales and collected data from social media users.

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French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire . Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire . Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire . Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said taxes on companies based in Ireland, such as Facebook and Google, must change if tax policies are to be made efficient.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe conceded that changes must happen but said special consideration must be given to exporting countries who depend heavily of such companies for employment.

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Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

Mr Le Maire reaffirmed France’s support for Ireland as Brexit talks continue. However, he warned tax changes are necessary.

"On digital taxation, and I want to be very clear there is no link between the two issues and never has been," said Mr Le Maire.

"The real challenge is to build a new international taxation for the 21st century. You need a fair taxation of digital activities.

"You have to tax the revenue and have to tax the revenue from data.

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"The key point for us is to find a permanent international solution as soon as possible.

"If we are able to do that at a bialateral level between France and Ireland I think that is good news for the possibility of finding a solution at ODCE."

Le Maire said he and Donohoe agreed that the two countries would work together to pave the way for a common position on digital taxation at the OECD level. But he added that he believed an interim European solution remained the best way of generating leverage for a wider deal.

He added that France had never made a link between its unwavering support for Ireland over Brexit and their disagreement over the proposed European digital tax.

"Like all good friends, we have agreements and might have some disagreements," he said.

Last year the European Commission proposed enforcing taxation on three sources of income for major digital companies: money raised from advertising, exploitation of data and digital sales. France has supported these proposals.

Ireland has so far resisted change but Mr Donohoe conceded the issue must be examined.

Explainer: Brexit de-escalation? How Wednesday's parliamentary debate will work

British Prime Minister Theresa May will on Wednesday update parliament on her progress towards securing a Brexit deal, giving politicians the chance to challenge her approach and vote on alternatives.

May wants to negotiate changes to the departure deal she agreed with the EU last year and has promised to bring it back for approval in parliament by March 12 at the latest.

She looks to have postponed a moment of reckoning in the deeply divided legislature by promising MPs they will be given the chance next month to block a no-deal Brexit and delay Britain's exit day if her agreement is rejected.

Wednesday's debate will not involve a vote on whether to approve or reject a Brexit deal.

What will they debate?

Lawmakers will debate a simple government statement which reads: "This House notes the Prime Minister's statement on EU exit of 26 February, 2019; and further notes that discussions between the UK and the EU are ongoing."

Can MPs propose changes to the wording?

Yes. They are known as amendments and, if approved by a vote, could exert political pressure on May to change the course of Brexit. However, the government is not legally bound to follow any changes approved following the debate.

UK Parliament Speaker John Bercow chooses which amendments are selected for debate.

What can we expect?

May's move to de-escalate a showdown in parliament over fears that her strategy could result in Britain leaving the EU without a deal means that a plan for parliament to seize back control of the process is not expected to be voted upon.

However, voting on other alternatives will still take place and a number of amendments could be put to a vote. The final wording of amendments has not been published yet.

Will there be votes?

Speaker Bercow will decide whether to select any of the amendments for a vote at the start of the debate, due around 1300 GMT.

Lawmakers will vote on each of the selected amendments one by one, before voting to give final approval to the wording of the motion itself. Voting is due to begin at 1900 GMT. Each vote takes around 15 minutes and the result is read out in parliament.

What amendments are expected?

1. A cross-party group of lawmakers, led by the Labour Party's Yvette Cooper, will propose a plan that would give parliament the legal power to force May to seek an extension to the negotiating period.

However, it is expected to be withdrawn before a vote provided ministers confirm the timetable May set out on Tuesday.

2. The opposition Labour Party will put down an amendment setting out their own vision for Brexit and demanding the government adopt its negotiating position. Among other things, Labour is calling for a permanent UK-EU customs union.

3. A Conservative lawmaker will put forward a plan seeking to ensure that safeguards on the rights of EU citizens, which have already been agreed with Brussels as part of the withdrawal deal, would apply even if the government was not able to ratify the exit deal.

4. The Scottish National Party are also expected to table an amendment. They have previously called for the government to delay Britain's EU exit date.


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