Government has ‘open mind’ on article 50 extension for UK

Tusk expresses ‘strong and ongoing solidarity’ with Ireland in advance of summit

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and European Council president Donald Tusk at Government Buildings on Tuesday. Photograph: Paul Faith/Getty Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and European Council president Donald Tusk at Government Buildings on Tuesday. Photograph: Paul Faith/Getty Images

 

The Government has an open mind on whether the European Union should grant a long or short extension of article 50 to the UK at this week’s summit, according to sources involved in high-level discussions on the subject.

Ministers will discuss Brexit preparations on Wednesday when the Cabinet meets at Government Buildings in advance of this week’s crucial summit in Brussels, which will conclude just a week before the UK is due to leave the EU.

With the British prime minister Theresa May expected to seek an extension of the article 50 process for leaving, EU council president Donald Tusk – who chairs the EU’s highest decision-making body comprising of the heads of all 28 governments – visited Dublin on Tuesday to meet with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for talks on Brexit.

Solidarity

In a statement, the Government’s spokesman said Mr Tusk “expressed the strong and ongoing solidarity with Ireland of the European Council and European leaders”.

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“They agreed that we must now see what proposals emerge from London in advance of the European Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

“Meanwhile, preparations continue in Ireland and across the European Union for a no deal scenario, which would have serious consequences for all concerned,” the statement concluded.

Neither leader took questions from the media as they entered the meeting and officials were tight-lipped about the men’s discussions. However, senior sources said that there was not yet a fixed view in Government about whether Mrs May should be granted a short extension to potentially get her deal through parliament, or a long extension – which Brexiteers fear could threaten the UK’s exit from the bloc.

One source suggested the British could be granted a short extension with an option to extend, but also they could leave as soon as the withdrawal treaty was ratified, perhaps in the coming weeks.

However, another senior figure speculated that the European Council could delay a decision on an extension by a few days in order to see how matters at Westminster play out – placing huge pressure on the British government and the House of Commons to pass Mrs May’s deal, but also risking a no-deal outcome.

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