Irish premier warns of EU hostility towards further Brexit delay
Brussels’s patience has worn thin with UK dithering, says Leo Varadkar
Brussels — Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar warned on Thursday there is “enormous hostility” in the EU to allowing Britain to delay Brexit once again to seek new concessions from Brussels.
Varadkar spoke as he arrived for an EU summit that could be the last for Prime Minister Theresa May, who has announced her resignation after failing to get her divorce deal approved by the UK parliament.
The European leaders met in Brussels as May’s Conservative Party looked likely to back Boris Johnson, a former British foreign minister widely seen as unreliable in Brussels, to take over as premier.
“While I have endless patience, some of my (EU leader) colleagues have lost their patience with the UK and there is enormous hostility to any further extension,” Varadkar said.
“I think an extension could really only happen if it were to facilitate something like a general election in the UK or something like a second referendum if they decided to have one,” he said.
Arriving an hour after other leaders to the summit in Brussels, May refused to be drawn by reporters on the state of Brexit talks.
“This is the last scheduled European Council that I will be at. I will continue to do what we have always done, which is to play a constructive role while we are part of the discussions around the table,” she said.
The fraught state of Brexit negotiations was not on Thursday’s summit agenda, a rare occurrence since Britain voted to leave the bloc almost three years ago to the day.
The current Brexit deadline — granted to Britain at an emergency meeting in April — is October 31, a date which Johnson and the other Conservative candidates have pledged will be met.
At the April summit, French President Emmanuel Macron argued against granting the delay but was overturned by his more cautious EU counterparts, most notably Germany’s Angela Merkel.
Ireland’s Varadkar said that such caution had now gone.
“What won’t be entertained is an extension for further negotiations or further indicative votes,” he said, referring to a series of non-binding votes in the UK parliament that failed to end the impasse. “The time for that is long since past,” he said.
Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, one of the UK’s most vocal critics, warned that the rejected deal on the table was all that was on offer, even after the leadership in London changed.
“If they choose Boris Johnson, then he will have to deal with us on the agreement we have done with Theresa May,” Bettel said.
In recent campaign promises, Johnson suggested he could reopen May’s exit deal and even ditch the “backstop” arrangement concerning Ireland, the most controversial aspect of the deal. But he seemed to suggest he could negotiate a new arrangement with Ireland during a transition period after a no-deal Brexit, an idea Varadkar dismissed.
“There’s no withdrawal agreement without a backstop and there’s no implementation period without a withdrawal agreement,” he said.