Brexit: UK needs to reset approach to justify extension – Coveney
Tánaiste hints May must signal she will reach out to opposition if she wants EU approval
Tánaiste Simon Coveney: ‘We have to show some patience and give some space to the British prime minister.’ Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
Speaking to journalists in the Grande Place in Brussels, which was lit up green for St Patrick’s Day, Mr Coveney said he believed it would be clear by Tuesday evening whether UK prime minister Theresa May had succeeded in building support for the withdrawal agreement.
If not, he said, he expects the British government to seek a lengthy extension to article 50 at the European Council summit at the end of the week to “allow the UK to re-evaluate where they are and what direction to take to try to create a consensus and a way forward on Brexit”.
Mr Coveney said that if the British government is “asking for longer extension, there will need to be a plan to go with that … Presumably that will mean seeking time to build a new consensus.”
The Tánaiste was clearly hinting that Mrs May must indicate that she intends reach out to the opposition if she wants to get approval for a long extension from EU heads of state. “More of the same” will not suffice, observers in Brussels have warned.
Mr Coveney said he expected that if Mrs May won support for the withdrawal agreement on Tuesday, she would almost certainly seek a short extension of Article 50 to facilitate the passing of legislation through Westminster to actually put into law what is in the agreement.
“People are watching and waiting here in Brussels to see what the British parliament decides to do.
“We have to show some patience and give some space to the British prime minister to be able to make a judgment call on whether or not she can get majority support for that withdrawal agreement. From an Irish perspective we hope she can.”
“We’ll have the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, and the European Council will be in Brussels on Thursday and Friday,” he said.
“At the Cabinet meeting, we will be in a position to sign off on a package of support for business, for farmers, for the agri-food sector, for exporters, for anyone who may be adversely affected by a no-deal Brexit,” he said. “Obviously we are hoping that the deal will be ratified by the House of Commons before then but if it is not, we are ready.”
He said the package would support incomes and jobs. It is not going to be a case of everything being all right, he said: Brexit is bad news and a no-deal Brexit would be very bad news.
“But the package of supports that we will put in place for hundreds of millions of euros, and will support and protect incomes and jobs in those most exposed sectors – particularly in the agri-food sector – and will also help other businesses and other exporters to be orientated away from the UK markets to other markets. And the country is in a good space to deal with this if we have to.”