Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 November 2017

'Brexit deadline extension is almost inevitable' - MEP Kelly

Sean Kelly MEP
Sean Kelly MEP

Sarah Collins

UK premier Theresa May's bid to clarify her stance on Brexit last week has confused many in Brussels.

In a long-awaited speech to foreign diplomats, she pledged to maintain the common travel area with Ireland and pledged there would be no "return to the borders of the past".

But she was less clear on what she expected from trade with Ireland and the rest of the bloc, hinting she would leave the customs union but seek tariff-free trade with the EU - an option that is legally impossible.

Ireland's 11 MEPs met the EU's lead Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, ahead of the speech to plead Ireland's case.

Fine Gael's Seán Kelly (inset), who organised the meeting, said Mr Barnier was sympathetic to Ireland's concerns on border issues and Northern Ireland.

"Most people would agree a hard border is the least possible and least practical outcome," he told the Irish Independent. "It could undermine the whole peace process."

But he warned the UK risked having to extend its two-year negotiating timeline because of the complexity of the talks.

"It's fairly clear to anybody, you won't get a full agreement in that space of time," he said. "I think they might have to ask for an extension, it's almost inevitable."

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While the UK said it will notify the EU of its intention to leave by the end of March, Mr Kelly said talks won't kick off until the terms have been agreed by EU leaders which could take until June.

Sinn Féin's Matt Carthy, who was also at the meeting, called for Northern Ireland to get "special designated status within the EU" given its people's right to Irish citizenship under the Good Friday agreement. And he said a transitional deal was needed to protect Irish people and companies.

"The EU has a responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens who risk being dragged out of the European Union against their own democratically expressed wishes," Mr Carthy said.

"If Ireland is to mitigate the inevitable uncertainty following Theresa May's speech - uncertainty which will adversely affect Irish exporters, the agriculture sector and farmers - the Irish Government needs to press for a transitional agreement," Mr Carthy said.

The Midlands, North and West MEP also called for a European Parliament working group to examine in detail how Brexit will impact on the farming community.

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