Many EU states do not want UK to take part in European elections, Weber says

Leading candidate to be next European Commission president attends FG conference

Manfred Weber has said few European countries want the UK to hold European Parliament elections if Brexit is subject to a long delay. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

Manfred Weber has said few European countries want the UK to hold European Parliament elections if Brexit is subject to a long delay. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

 

The German politician who is the favourite to become the next European Commission president has said few European countries want the UK to hold European Parliament elections if Brexit is subject to a long delay.

Manfred Weber, an MEP from Bavaria, is the candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP) centre-right bloc to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the commission.

Speaking during a trip to Ireland, he contended the UK must quickly make a clear decision one way or the other on Brexit, as many EU states opposed allowing a country that is leaving the EU to have a say in the bloc’s future.

The European elections will be held at the end of May. European leaders agreed last week to postpone Brexit to May 22nd if British prime minister Theresa May can get MPs to back her withdrawal deal in the House of Commons at the third time of asking.

If the vote is not passed, the UK will have to set out an alternative way forward by April 12th, which could mean a much longer delay or leaving without a deal at all.

If Brexit is subject to a long delay, the UK may be legally obliged to participate in the elections, and states that gained seats from a redistribution of British seats will have to put them in furlough. That includes the Republic, where the last MEPs elected in the Dublin and South constituencies will not be allowed take up their seats until Brexit occurs.

Mr Weber was a guest of Fine Gael at its national conference in Wexford on Saturday. He made the comments as he and Tánaiste Simon Coveney spoke to the media.

Mr Coveney said he did not see EU elections in the UK as a “likely outcome”. If they were held, he said, it would have a hugely disruptive effect.

‘Difficult situation’

Speaking to reporters, Mr Weber said that if there was a longer delay in the Brexit process – amid uncertainty as to the UK’s intentions on leaving – it would result in a difficult situation.

“We now have legal problems on the table due to the uncertainty from London,” he said.

“Don’t underestimate [that] that decision of the European Council [last Thursday] was already a compromise. There are a lot of voices that don’t accept that Britain will participate in the elections.

“I myself must tell you that I can’t explain to the people in Spain and Greece and Finland and even here in Ireland that a country that is leaving the EU formally has a big say in the future of the EU.

“That is a big question on the table. That is why we are enormously under time pressure. Britain must decide one way or the other.

“It is a case of Great Britain leaving the European Union and not the European Union leaving Great Britain,” he said.

For his part, Mr Coveney said he did not envisage European elections in the UK in May as a likely outcome.

“If they seek an extension – they may not get that by the way – and would have to facilitate EU elections, that would have a disruptive impact and may not be facilitated anyway.”

Mr Coveney continued: “I don’t envisage that as a likely outcome. I think the EU is strong collectively. I also think the UK is strong on this. British involvement in the EU elections at this stage, given the [European] Council decision of the past few days, is very unlikely,” he said.

Mr Weber (46) is a long-serving MEP and has won backing for his candidacy from German chancellor Angela Merkel. He said that visiting Ireland has reinforced his opinion on how vital an issue Brexit is here.

Farm visit

Mr Weber visited the farm of Michael Jordan in Boolavogue, Co Wexford, earlier on Saturday, to hear at first hand the challenges posed by Brexit for Irish farmers, especially in a no-deal scenario.

“Brexit is not only a issue for the negotiating table in Brussels. Brexit is an issue here for the farmer, for the local level, for the people who invested, who have concerns about the future.

“European leaders need to be close to people. I as a European leader must be close to people,” he said.

His visit came two days after the leadership of the EPP suspended Fidesz, the party of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, over continuously provocative nationalist and anti-EU rhetoric.

Asked about the suspension, he said that the EPP needed to make a firm and crystal clear decision.

“Viktor Orban [and his party] has no say anymore in the EPP, no voting rights, no chance to present candidates for posts, even no participation right in any of the meetings.

“On Thursday we had the summit of the EPP leaders, with Angela Merkel and Leo Varadkar, and Viktor Orban was no longer at the table.

“So our decision was a clear one and a firm one that he cannot be anymore a power within the EPP family.”

Asked if he believed there was a case for the UK to revoke article 50 and halt Brexit, following the mass rally in London on Saturday calling for this, Mr Coveney said it was not helpful for politicians in Ireland to try “to push decisions in any direction”. Additional reporting: – PA