Brexit: Austria’s chancellor suggests extending talks deadline

Sebastian Kurz comments are first sign of tactical disunity between EU 27 states

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz whose country has just assumed the rotating presidency of the EU. Photograph: Getty

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz whose country has just assumed the rotating presidency of the EU. Photograph: Getty

 

Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz has opened the door to extending negotiations with the UK should agreement not be forthcoming on the Irish Border, in the first sign of tactical disunity between the remaining 27 states.

That could mean extending the Article 50 deadline for withdrawal for the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, although Mr Kurz would not be drawn on the issue.

Speaking to journalists in Vienna Mr Kurz, whose country has just assumed the rotating presidency of the EU, said the primary aim of the presidency was to see agreement by the end of the year.

But “if not possible I favour continuing negotiations, instead of accepting a hard Brexit. ”

Mr Kurtz expressed strong support for the EU negotiating team led by Mr Michel Barnier, but the latter has been insisting that if there is not deal on the Irish backstop by the October summit that there would be no agreement on the Withdrawal Agreement - ie, no transition and a hard Brexit at the end of March next year.

That position was strongly supported by the European Council summit last week.

The presidency does not have a direct role in the process beyond co-ordinating the work of ministers in the council and would certainly face strong opposition from many member states to any suggestion of extending Article 50 let alone to extending Withdrawal Agreement talks.

Leaders are concerned that unless a legal agreement is in place by October ratification by the various parties to the treaty, from MEPs to the Commons, would not be possible in time for the end of March.

But the chancellor’s comments may be seen in London as taking some pressure off it to advance a solution to the backstop issue and will not be welcomed in Brussels for precisely the same reason.

Mr Kurz is due to visit the UK and Ireland this weekend.