Belfast Telegraph

No-deal Brexit fears grow as Dublin pins hopes on delayed EU exit

Prime Minister Theresa May reacts last night after her Brexit deal was rejected by MPs in the Commons
Prime Minister Theresa May reacts last night after her Brexit deal was rejected by MPs in the Commons
Leo Varadkar
Donald Tusk

By Kevin Doyle

With the risk of the UK crashing out of the EU in 16 days' time growing, Irish hopes are now firmly pinned on the potential for an extension to Article 50 beyond March 29.

But aware that many EU capitals are wary of prolonging the Brexit debacle, Mrs May has also raised the possibility a second referendum.

However, EU leaders are not overly keen for a delay past the end of May.

Sources in Dublin said the Irish Government will "help" the UK lobby other countries for an extension because "March 29 was always a UK deadline, not an EU one".

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Simon Coveney are increasingly aware of the need for a "clear logic" as to why a postponement should be granted.

Mr Coveney said he was "deeply disappointed" that the meaningful vote in Westminster failed.

Avoiding a crash-out Brexit cannot be done without the UK Parliament "agreeing something" he said, adding a no-deal would be a "lose, lose, lose" scenario for everyone.

"I think the British Prime Minister outlined very clearly this evening that the Parliament in London faces hard choices now.

"The focus has to be on London. That's where the crisis is. That's where the problem is and that's where the solutions need to come from."

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin told the Dail yesterday that a no-deal scenario "must be avoided".

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is considered an ally of the Taoiseach in the European Council, said last night that a request from the UK must have "credible and convincing justification".

"The smooth functioning of the EU institutions needs to be ensured," he said.

European leaders and senior EU figures reacted with disappointment at the defeat of Mrs May's Brexit deal.

Several said a no-deal Brexit was now more likely and preparations for that scenario would be "intensified".

While open to the idea of an extension, EU chiefs moved swiftly to shut down any suggestion Mrs May could seek more changes to the operation of the Irish backstop.

European Council president Donald Tusk said the EU has "done all that is possible to reach an agreement".

"Should there be a UK reasoned request for an extension, the EU27 will consider it and decide by unanimity," he said. The House of Commons will vote tonight on a motion to test whether MPs support leaving the EU without a deal. The idea is expected to be defeated.

This will open the door to another vote tomorrow on a possible extension.

However, Mrs May will today outline the reality of a hard Brexit so that MPs are "fully informed in making this historic decision".

A real moment of truth for the Irish Republic will come when she reveals her Government's plan for tariffs and their approach to the border.

As the crisis grew last night, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, warned: "The EU has done everything it can to help get the withdrawal agreement over the line.

"The impasse can only be solved in the UK.

"Our 'no-deal' preparations are now more important than ever before."

European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt was even more scathing.

Sharing an image on Twitter of a man and woman kissing with their faces painted separately in Union Flag and EU flag colours, he wrote: "Brexit was about taking back control, instead the UK spiralled out of control.

"Only cross-party cooperation putting Country first, can end this mess. If this happens we will fully engage."

Meanwhile, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he would "intensify" his country's no-deal preparations now.

He wrote on Twitter: "Deeply saddened by the outcome of the #Brexit vote this evening.

"Despite clear EU assurances on the backstop, we now face a chaotic #NoDeal #Brexit scenario. And time is almost up.

"We will intensify our #NoDeal preparation."

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