Taoiseach warns rolling Brexit extensions ‘are giving rise to uncertainty’
Tanaiste welcomes May’s decision to delay but calls for credible plan
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Castletroy, Limerick on Friday.Photograph: Diarmuid Greene
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said any request by the UK for an extension to exiting the EU “can’t be another licence for more indecision”.
He was speaking after news emerged that British prime minister Theresa May has written to European Council president Donald Tusk asking to delay Brexit until June 30th.
In a radio interview on Friday, Mr Varadkar said: “I think an extension is better than crashing out with no deal but I am increasingly conscious that these rolling extensions are giving rise to uncertainty.”
Every time there is an extension, “it delays important decisions”, he said.
“People need to plan their lives. Businesses need to make investment decisions. Governments need to decide whether we have money to spend on important things like rural broadband or whether we have to spend the money instead on protecting farmers and the beef industry from Brexit.”
Mr Varadkar, during his interview with Gavin Grace on Clare FM’s Morning Focus programme, said EU leaders will hear what Mrs May has to say next Wednesday, “but if there is a further request for an extension, we would want to know that there is a clear plan, it can’t be another licence for more indecision”.
He added: “Sooner or later, the UK needs to decide.”
Meanwhile, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney welcomed the decision by Mrs May to write to the EU seeking an extension of Article 50, but said that the request needs to be accompanied by a credible plan to find favour with EU leaders.
Mr Coveney said EU leaders will need to consider the request from Ms May to see to extend Article 50 until the end of June and there is real pressure now to find some resolution given the proximity of European Parliament elections and the implications for the elections of the UK request for more time.
“Certainly the Irish position is that of course an extension of time is far preferable to a crash out Brexit but we would like to see a detailed plan to go with that request for extra time and a plan that is credible so that we can see an end to this uncertainty,” said Mr Coveney.
“What we would like to see is the British Prime Minister working with the Labour Party to bring proposals that can get majority support in Westminister, that hasn’t been possible yet - hopefully it will be possible this week, if not in the next number of weeks.”
Speaking in Cork where he officially opened a €4.8 million extension to the Tabor Group’ new addiction treatment centre at Tabor Fellowship House, Mr Coveney said the impending European Parliament elections posed a real challenge for everyone in terms of agreeing an exit deal for the UK.
“I think most people in the UK recognise that it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense for the UK to hold European elections for the European Parliament if they are planning to leave the European Union- that has a disruptive effect for other countries as well.
“And of course if the UK looks for an extension but doesn’t hold European parliament elections and the UK doesn’t take is place in the European Parliament, the European Parliament as an institution isn’t legally constituted and can’t make decisions so there is real pressure in terms of decision making.”
Mr Coveney said that although Ireland was preparing for a No-Deal Brexit as a precaution, it remained a possibility even though he thought an extension of time was more likely but he again cautioned the UK needs to use the extension wisely if it is to be backed by the remaining members of the EU
“I don’t think a No Deal Brexit is a likely outcome even though it is possible. I think we are looking at an extension of time and I think everybody will be quite demanding on the UK in terms of how that extra time gets used so we can try and bring an end to this first phase of the withdrawal agreement.”
Mr Coveney said that although the Withdrawal Agreement was only the first phase of the withdrawal process, it was particularly important from an Irish perspective because it includes an Irish protocol which provides the backstop but also protects the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK.
Mr Coveney said he welcomed comments by German Chancellor, Angela Merkel restating the EU’s commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process during her visit to Ireland where she met families who had been affected by the Troubles.
“We have got to protect a peace process on this island and I think Chancellor Merkel yesterday was quite emotive and quite firm in relation to this being an EU responsibility as well as an Irish responsibility, as well as a British government responsibility.
“The second obligation we have is to protect the integrity of the single market that we are very much part of and I have said very clearly in the last 10 days that this government will not allow a situation where Ireland gets dragged out of the single market by a UK crashing out of the EU.
We can’t allow that so we have to put mechanisms in place to protect the integrity of the single market so that we can continue to trade with the rest of the EU without any borders or checks as we do today but doing the two of those things is quite a difficult task because on one level they are contradictory.”
Mr Coveney said he was confident that a way would be found that would prevent a physical border infrastructure anywhere near the border and Irish officials were currently working out the technicalities of that at the moment with the European Commission but he didn’t want to be drawn on that.
He explained he was cautious about commenting on how Ireland might manage this challenge as any time he make any statements on it, there were some in Westminister who spin that and say ‘Ah well we knew all the time the backstop was never needed, there are alternatives to the backstop’.