Brexit: Varadkar warns EU against offering unpalatable extension

Taoiseach is concerned that offering extension UK does not want may lead to no-deal

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/WPA Pool/Getty

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/WPA Pool/Getty

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that the EU should not offer the UK an extension on terms the latter cannot accept at Wednesday’s summit because it could lead to a crash-out on Friday.

Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Varadkar said he was confident an extension for the UK would be agreed when EU leaders meet at an emergency summit in Brussels tomorrow. But he struck a cautious note, warning that the EU should not force the UK out by tabling an offer that would not be accepted.

Mr Varadkar also stressed that the UK should be allowed to leave as soon as it has passed the withdrawal agreement and the associated legislation.

“I have to say I am confident that an extension will be agreed, but there will be different views and there will be a discussion both around the length of it and also the conditionality connected to it,” Mr Varadkar said.

“I think it’s important to point out that the UK has only asked for an extension until June 30th. So if we were to offer a longer extension, what would the offer be?

“Would the offer be – ‘You must accept this longer extension or you must leave on Friday’? You know, so we’ll have to think this one through,” Mr Varadkar said.

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EU division

He suggested EU leaders would have to take into account what Mrs May could accept.

“They’re requesting an extension. They don’t want a crash-out on Friday. So if we’re going to offer them a longer extension, it will have to be an offer they’re willing to accept,” Mr Varadkar told the Dáil.

“We don’t want to cause a crash-out on Friday by only offering them a long extension that they would be forced to refuse.”

Although there is division among EU member states on how long the extension for the British should be, and on what terms, with reports suggesting French president Emmanuel Macron was advocating a short extension and a definite exit date, Mr Varadkar said after his discussions with Mr Macron he had “no reason to believe that France would even consider vetoing a Brexit extension”.

However, he said, Mr Macron certainly “wants to know about conditionality”. One Brussels source said the end of the year was seen by the French as the “outer limit” and that they were likely to insist on strict conditions.

This is to avoid the danger of the UK staying in the EU while it sought to arrange its exit but disrupting EU business for months – a course explicitly advocated by some Brexiteers.

Decision-making

Mr Varadkar acknowledged the issues saying: “If they’re leaving, should they be involved in future EU decision-making?

“If they’re leaving, should they be involved in shaping the new Cap, should they be involved in the MFF [the EU’s seven-year budget, shortly to be negotiated], should they be involved in electing the next president of the commission . . . ?”

However, Mr Varadkar said that UK prime minister Theresa May was likely to insist on the UK being allowed to leave as soon as the withdrawal agreement is passed.

The Taoiseach said that in his discussion with Mrs May on Tuesday night, “one of the things she was very firm about is that no matter how long the extension is, they should be allowed to leave once they have ratified the withdrawal agreement and done the necessary legislation”.

“So even if it was nine months or 12 months or 15 months, they wouldn’t have to stay in that long if they ratified the agreement and ratified the legislation they need to do ... and I think that’s a reasonable request from her,” he said.