Brexit

Leo Varadkar: EU must ensure Brexit does not become 'rolling cliff-edge'

Activists pose with papier mache heads depicting British Prime Minister Theresa May, right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, during an anti-Brexit campaign stunt outside EU headquarters during an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, March 21, 2019 
Michelle Devane, Press Association

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the European Union needs to ensure Brexit does not end up becoming a "rolling cliff-edge" scenario.

Speaking at a European People's Party (EPP) meeting in Brussels ahead of the EU summit, Mr Varadkar said there was an "openness to an extension" across the board among EU leaders.

"Everyone wants to avoid a no deal but we can't have a situation whereby we have a rolling cliff-edge, where we just put off decisions and deadlines every couple of months," he said.

"Brexit was never going to be clean. Brexit would always require some very hard choices for the United Kingdom to make. It was never going to be all good and no bad. And those decisions now need to be made."

Yesterday British prime minister Theresa May formally requested a short extension, which would delay the withdrawal date from March 29 to June 30, in a letter to EU Council president Donald Tusk.

She is meeting Mr Tusk in Brussels this afternoon.

Mr Tusk said he believed a short extension was possible, but only if Westminster endorses the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

Mr Varadkar said the Dublin government was willing to cut the British government some slack on their request for a short extension, and when it came to the request that the Strasbourg Agreement be ratified formally.

Asked whether he was in favour of a long extension, Mr Varadkar said now was not the time to consider it.

He said: "There hasn't been a request for a long extension so I don't think we can consider that at this stage."

The Taoiseach said Ireland did not want the UK to crash out of the EU and it was up to the UK to revoke Article 50 if it chose to.

"No deal can only ever be a British choice," he said.

"Let's not forget the March 29 deadline was set by the UK in the first place. It's always up to them, even at the last moment, to revoke Article 50 unilaterally.

"They do not need permission to do that so no deal, if it happens, will be a British choice and a British decision.

"Brexit is not a problem of our creation. We do need to see resolution, I think, sooner rather than later. I don't think this can drag on for months and years."

Speaking in Brussels, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he believed it would be "very difficult" for Mrs May to get her deal through "but he wouldn't rule it out".

"There's a very clear choice facing Brexiteers in particular, that on the one hand they may say that the ultras will go for the no-deal scenario but on the other hand I don't think a no-deal will be tolerated by the remainder of the parliament," he said.

Mr Martin said MPs had a choice whether they want "a Brexit of some sort" or the potential of no-deal Brexit because he said there was a likelihood that an extension could be a long one.

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