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EU will not grant Brexit extension unless there is election or new referendum in UK: Taoiseach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomes Jeremy Corbyn in Dublin yesterday
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomes Jeremy Corbyn in Dublin yesterday

By Kevin Doyle

EU leaders will not sanction another Brexit extension unless the UK holds a general election or second referendum, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned.

The Taoiseach "politely" told Labour Party leader Jeremy Corybn during a meeting that there is a "hardened view across the European Union".

He also emphasised that Theresa May's replacement as Prime Minister will not be able to renegotiate the backstop as the withdrawal agreement is "closed".

"The chances of a further extension are pretty slim," Mr Varadkar said.

The UK is now scheduled to leave the EU on October 31, with or without a deal.

Mr Corbyn was in Dublin yesterday for a series of meetings with politicians and President Michael D Higgins.

He has come under mounting pressure to back a second referendum but so far says he will only do so if a Brexit deal is passed by the Commons.

It comes as US President Donald Trump said he has great respect for the frontrunner in the race to take over No. 10 Downing Street, Boris Johnson.

Mr Trump, who will visit the UK and Ireland next week, declined to say who he supports among the various Conservative Party candidates to succeed Mrs May.

"Nigel Farage is a friend of mine. Boris is a friend of mine," Trump said yesterday.

"I like them... however I haven't thought about supporting them.

"Maybe it's not my business to support people, but I have a lot of respect for both of those men."

Mrs May is scheduled to leave office on June 7. Mr Johnson has said Britain should be prepared to enact Brexit without a deal in order to force the EU to offer it better terms.

However, Mr Varadkar has indicated that a new Prime Minister should not go to Brussels to try negotiate a new withdrawal agreement.

He said there is a very narrow set of circumstances under which the EU will consider any changes to the document agreed with Mrs May.

"The only way that could ever change is if there was a fundamental change in red lines from the next UK Prime Minister or UK Government. For example, a decision to stay in the customs union or single market," the Taoiseach said.

He added there could "potentially" be a further extension if there was a general election in the UK or a second referendum.

But ominously Mr Varadkar told the Opposition leader: "I don't think it's viable to believe there would be sufficient support or unanimous support as that's what is required around the European Council for an extension while the UK continues to figure it out or for another set of indicative votes."

The Taoiseach "very much emphasised" that the withdrawal agreement, including the Irish protocol, is "closed".

He did restate the long-held position in Brussels that changes can be made to the political declaration which sets the boundaries for a future relationship between the EU and UK.

Mr Corbyn said yesterday that the Tory leadership contest - and the prospect of a "no-deal zealot" becoming Prime Minister - means the issue has to go to the public.

But in a sign that he would be prepared to work with Tory moderates to prevent a no-deal Brexit, possibly by tabling a confidence motion to bring down the Government, Mr Corbyn said he would do "whatever is necessary".

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