Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and senior EU officials have given Britain a December deadline to finally solve the Brexit crisis, warning “the clock is ticking” and that “it would not be a good thing” if the stand-off dragged into the new year.
Mr Varadkar and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier drew the latest line in the sand on the long-running negotiations, as they effectively ruled out any prospect of a November deal being brokered.
As British prime minister Theresa May came under Brexiteer pressure to reveal her private backstop legal advice and as the Scottish parliament formally backed calls for a public vote, Mr Varadkar said a deal can still be struck.
However, during a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, as European Parliament president Donald Tusk yesterday held an unscheduled phone call with Ms May, the Taoiseach said an agreement must happen in December.
I think it’s possible for us to come to an agreement in November with a view to having a summit in November, but I do think as every day that passes, the possibility of having a special summit in November becomes less likely,” said Mr Varadkar.
“What we do have is one scheduled anyway for December 13-14, so not getting it done in November doesn’t mean we can’t get it done in the first two weeks of December, but beyond that then I think we’re into the new year. It wouldn’t be a good thing.”
The Taoiseach’s comments were mirrored by Mr Barnier at a similar press conference with Finnish prime minister Juha Sipila before the same European People’s Party meeting.
“To be frank, we are not there yet. The choices need to be made now on the UK side. The clock is ticking. I will not give you a date. I cannot give you a date. There are still important issues outstanding.”
Britain has claimed in recent days a potential “review” of the Northern Ireland backstop at a future date has heralded a key breakthrough this week which could see a November Brexit sign-off, with Downing Street hinting at a special cabinet meeting this week to agree a deal by November 19.
However, EU and Irish officials have questioned the timeline, with a senior Irish Government source saying last night Britain is at risk of repeating its Salisbury and Chequers problems by presuming solutions without first putting them to the EU officials they need to convince.
In addition, the DUP and hardline Brexiteers have demanded that Ms May publish her attorney general’s backstop review legal advice as part of any backstop arrangement before agreeing any position. It is a demand that may be ignored.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s devolved parliament in Holyrood has formally backed, by 66 votes to 28, the holding of a ‘people’s vote’ on any Brexit deal after a Liberal Democrats-forced ballot, increasing the pressure on Ms May.
“The Scottish Parliament has sent out a strong message and I urge the UK government to listen,” warned rebel Scottish Labour voter and the party’s former leader, Kezia Dugdale.