Barnier warns extending Brexit deadline without clear plan ‘dangerous’

Ministers at Dublin meeting are told EU will ‘stand fully behind Ireland’

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for Brexit talks in Dublin on Monday, April 8th. Video: Reuters

 

It will be “dangerous” if British prime minister Theresa May requests an extension to the Brexit deadline without a clear plan on how to ratify the current deal, the EU has privately warned.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, used the strong language in private meetings in Dublin on Monday, according to senior sources.

Mr Barnier held a series of meetings – with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and officials – ahead of an emergency European Council summit in Brussels on Wednesday.

He reassured Ministers the EU would “stand fully behind Ireland” but also warned of the dangers of a no-deal outcome during intensive discussions on how to manage a no-deal outcome on the Border.

Mr Barnier publicly said the EU and Ireland would find “operational solutions” to keep the Border open in the event of a no-deal. But officials briefed on the discussions said the European Commission was seeking detailed plans on how checks on goods and animals would work.

Sources said he sought reassurances that Ireland would protect the integrity of the single market, and gave reassurances that the Belfast Agreement, and an open Irish Border, would also be protected.

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The Government on Monday published notices to importers on requirements in the case of a no-deal, but stopped short of saying where checks on goods would be conducted, while in Brussels the Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan declined to be drawn on implications for the movement of animals across the Border.

Deadline

Unless Mrs May secures an extension of the article 50 negotiating process at Wednesday’s emergency summit, the UK will leave at 11pm on Friday.

While senior sources in Dublin and Brussels say this is most unlikely, few were willing to rule it out in the medium term.

Mrs May has sought an extension, but there is division in the EU about whether the period should be long or short, and what conditions should be attached. EU leaders want Mrs May to come to Brussels on Wednesday with a plan for securing a parliamentary majority for the withdrawal agreement at Westminster, but also a plan for what will happen if she cannot achieve it.

In meetings on Monday, Mr Barnier privately said it would be “dangerous” if Mrs May does not travel to Brussels with a plan.

“She has to describe an outcome and demonstrate how the outcome will be achieved,” one source in Dublin said. “If she can’t, then it’s a long extension and the UK can leave when it can.”

Mrs May will visit Berlin and Paris on Tuesday to meet Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

Talks between British government officials and Labour party representatives continued on Monday night as the two sides seek to agree a common approach to Brexit.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar spoke to Netherlands prime minister Mark Rutte, and also to his counterparts in Luxembourg and Malta, Xavier Bettel and Joseph Muscat.

He also spoke to Mrs May on Monday night and repeated his openness to an extension of the deadline.

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