Taoiseach 'not playing chicken' over Brexit as May delays vote in Commons

Taoiseach 'not playing chicken' over Brexit as May delays vote in Commons

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned British prime minister Theresa May Ireland is "not playing chicken, not playing poker" over Brexit after Ms May delayed a crucial House of Commons vote on the deal until just days before the EU-UK divorce date.

Speaking to reporters while flying to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the first ever summit between the EU an the Arab League, Ms May confirmed a "meaningful" vote on the deal planned for Wednesday will now be delayed until up to March 12.

The latest delay means any Brexit deal outcome will not be known until just 17 days before the March 29 EU-UK divorce date, nine days before the final EU summit before Brexit and risks derailing some of Ireland's no deal Brexit legal changes.

However, speaking to reporters in his first engagement at Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday afternoon, Mr Varadkar warned Ms May he and Ireland not "playing chicken" on the stand-off.

"The decision on when this vote happens in the House of Commons isn’t under my control. I haven’t had a chance to speak to Prime Minister May yet. I will today or tomorrow.

"I understand she has taken the decision to defer the vote until some time around mid March, but for the European Union, that doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t take anything from Ireland’s point of view either.

“Let’s not forget this March 29 deadline is a self imposed deadline. It is one that the United Kingdom has imposed on itself. Nobody in Ireland of the EU is threatening no deal.

"This is a situation the UK has created for itself so we are not playing chicken, we are not playing poker, we are just standing by our position which has been solid from day one," he said.

Mr Varadkar's comments are likely to be seen as a clear calling out of Ms May, who it has been suggested could be delaying any vote until the last possible moment to see if either the EU or hard-line Brexiteers will back down on the backstop.

Although no meeting between the Taoiseach and the prime minister in Egypt has been formally confirmed, Government sources said it is likely the two leaders will hold sideline talks this evening or early tomorrow on the fringes of the EU-Arab League summit.

Ms May had caused the latest Brexit concerns earlier today when she told British reporters while travelling to Sharm el-Sheikh the "meaningful" vote will be delayed.

"My team will be back in Brussels again this coming week. As a result, we won't bring a meaningful vote to parliament this week, but we will ensure that that happens by March 12," Ms May said.

Asked if rumours of her or her cabinet considering an extension to article 50, meaning the March 29 Brexit deadline could be pushed back if this is agreed by Brussels, Ms May added:

"People talk about extending article 50 as if that will solve the issue. Of course it won't, it defers the point of decision. There comes a point where we need to make that decision."

While Ms May's delay will be seen in some quarters as an attempt to play chicken with hardline Brexiteers opposing her deal, it runs the genuine risk of causing a disastrous no deal Brexit with the deadline for an agreement now just 33 days away.

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