Brexit: May meets EU leaders as UK minister hints at delay

British minister suggests PM could announce extension of Article 50 process

British PM Theresa May was filmed playing pool against with her Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte during a break from the EU Arab League Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt over the weekend. Video: Reuters


British prime minister Theresa May is holding meetings with European leaders at a summit in Egypt as attempts to resolve the Brexit impasse continue.

Mrs May has admitted she will not get a new Brexit proposal in time for MPs to hold a “meaningful vote” this week, amid warnings time is running out for an agreement before Britain leaves the European Union.

On Sunday she delayed the vote until March 12th, 17 days before Britain is to leave the EU, as her ministers threatened to take control of the exit timetable.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “For the European Union, that doesn’t change anything.” Speaking at the EU-Arab League summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, he added: “It doesn’t change anything from Ireland’s point of view either.”

Mrs May held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the two leaders attended the summit in Egypt.

Mrs May and her German counterpart met over breakfast on the fringes of the gathering at Sharm el Sheikh on Monday.

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Mrs May also met Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte for Brexit-related talks on the fringes of the EU-Arab League summit. Mrs May is holding meetings with a number of EU leaders, including Mr Varadkar, on the final day of the summit.

Former Irish ambassador to the UK, Italy and the EU Bobby McDonagh said Mrs May is going to “run down the clock” in terms of the UK’s departure from the EU.

He told Newstalk Breakfast that “the ball is very much in the British court at this stage. I think her game plan is very clear.”

Brexit-backing Conservative MP Owen Paterson said there would be “very wide support in parliament” for a Brexit agreement providing legally-binding assurances that the UK and EU will work together following March 29 to find technological arrangements to keep the Irish border open.

“There is real progress going on behind the scenes,” Mr Paterson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “We have come up with proposals for the Irish border which Steve Barclay has put to the commission and he is going to set up a taskforce of EU officials and UK officials.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper said the Brexit amendment she hopes to secure on Wednesday would allow parliament to tell the prime minister to seek an extension to the negotiation process but leave it in the Government’s hands to decide how long it should be.


She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The Government doesn’t feel to me to be behaving like a responsible government at all at the moment. The idea that we could be only a few weeks from Brexit and we still don’t know what kind of Brexit we are going to have and we’re not even going to have a vote on it until two weeks before that final deadline.

British defence minister Tobias Ellwood suggested there was a possibility of Theresa May herself announcing an extension of the two-year Article 50 negotiation process beyond March 29th.

Mr Ellwood told Today: “The prime minister is listening and is recognising the fact that we have tried very, very hard in order to secure a deal.”

Asked if she could announce an Article 50 extension after her return from talks with other EU leaders in Egypt, he said: “You need to wait and hear what she has to say when she gets back.

British education secretary Damian Hinds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the withdrawal agreement was a “good deal”, but it was necessary to deal with “legitimate concerns” about the backstop proposals before bringing it back to parliament. – PA


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