The Irish Times view on Brexit: Strong case for a long extension to the UK’s exit date

In a crucial week for Brexit, there is no perfect outcome, but delaying the UK’s exit looks like the best way forward

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier hold a joint press conference at Government Buildings on Monday. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier hold a joint press conference at Government Buildings on Monday. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/WPA Pool/Getty Images

 

EU solidarity with Ireland has been remarkable through the Brexit talks, as further shown by a visit to Dublin on Monday by chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. Even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, he confirmed, the EU would put solving the Irish Border issue as one of the prerequisites for any re-starting of trade talks with the UK afterwards.Ireland has convinced the rest of the EU of the importance of the Irish Border issue and it is clear that this is now one of the key reasons why the EU will do what it can to avoid a no-deal exit.

As things stand, the UK is due to leave the EU on Friday, April 12th, the date decided by the last EU summit. An extension of the date is expected,though not guaranteed, at another summit on Wednesday. It is ,as yet, unclear what proposals the UK prime minister, Theresa May will make to break the Brexit deadlock, though she has indicated she will seek an extension until June 30th.

The EU side, meanwhile, has to consider its response. European Council president Donald Tusk, has proposed a one-year extension, with the possibility of the UK leaving earlier if it approves the withdrawal agreement. However the signs are that a number of EU leaders remain to be convinced as to the merits of this.

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As we saw from the last EU summit, it is hard to predict what emerges when the leaders enter these kind of negotiations. Ireland would support the Tusk option and be wary of any shorter deadline which sets up a new risk of a no-deal exit over the next couple of months.Much would depend, as ever, on the big EU countries.

There seems a strong case for a longer extension in the Article 50 deadline, given the changing political mood in the UK and the huge cost of a no-deal Brexit for all sides. While the UK and EU sides – including Ireland – having been making preparations, a no-deal exit nonetheless threatens huge disruption and economic cost. It also endangers the open Irish Border, with new Government notices issued on Monday highlighting, in particular, the checks needed on food and animal products entering from the UK.

A long extension would not have a guaranteed outcome, of course, and this will worry EU leaders, many of whom want to keep pressure on the UK to make a decision. It would also mean that the UK would have to hold elections to the European Parliament and maintain a seat around the EU table for some months to come. It is not ideal. But set against the other options – a crash-out Brexit, or a series of shorter extensions –it seems like the best way forward.

The UK would have to respond by working to find some consensus in parliament, a job it should have started a long time ago. There would then be a strong case for putting the outcome of this to the British people in a vote.

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