Brexit: EU needs ‘persuasive’ UK plan to grant extension

Coveney says time should be used on 'new plan of action' or 'new approach'

Tánaiste Simon Coveney at a meeting at the European Commission in Brussels. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Tánaiste Simon Coveney at a meeting at the European Commission in Brussels. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

 

The UK was on Tuesday put on notice by EU ministers and negotiators that the granting of more time for negotiations by its 27 partners would not be automatic.

They will need to bring to this week’s summit a “persuasive” plan on how to break the political impasse they face, both Tánaiste Simon Coveney and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned in Brussels.

“I don’t think there’s any appetite among EU leaders to simply kick this can down the road,” the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs told journalists following a meeting of European Affairs ministers of the 27.

“I think that people would be very foolish to think that this is just some kind of political game and that an extension will automatically be facilitated,” Mr Coveney said .

“I think that EU leaders will be demanding, and understandably so, and want to know, if there is an extension to article 50, that that time will be used to implement a new plan of action, potentially a new approach, that can help the British parliament to get beyond the impasse that is currently preventing agreement.” Mr Coveney said.

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Mr Coveney had bilateral meetings with Mr Barnier, the European Parliament’s Brexit chief, Guy Verhofstadt, and the British cabinet office secretary – in effect deputy prime minister – David Lidington.

Mr Barnier said there was a price to pay for an extension and leaders would have to be convinced granting one would be productive. “What would be its purpose? And how do we make sure we do not end up in the same position as today?”

Radical approach

An extension, he said, would be a “prolongation of uncertainty” and said that the same criteria would be used to assess the case for a short or long extension.

Hinting that the UK government would have to be radical in its approach, he warned that its justification for “an extension must be linked to a new event or new political process”, an implication that Mrs May should go as far as committing to a general election or second poll. Or, as Mr Coveney also suggested, an “ambitious” willingness to amend the political declaration to make it more acceptable to a majority in the House of Commons – in other words, moving to a softer Brexit.

“There is a lot of concern among member states about the prospect of a long extension,” Mr Coveney said.

“An extension brings risks with it through a European election cycle, the establishment of a new commission, and the EU is dealing with a lot of things at the moment, so the disrutive effect of Brexit for another nine months ... is something that people will need convincing on,” he added.

“If there’s going to be a request for a long extension of article 50 by the UK, well then there will need to be a very persuasive plan to go with that to explain why that’s needed and how they will use the time to conclude the outstanding issues that haven’t been able to be agreed in London in the context of the Brexit process.”

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