AN Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reportedly told Cabinet colleagues that he believes the deadline for Britain’s exit date from the EU will be extended from March 29th to June, according to newspaper reports this week.
A Minister is quoted as saying that the 40-year-old Fine Gael had ‘privately said … that it is very likely there will be an extension until June.’ Any extension beyond that date would complicate matters, as the European Parliament elections take place at the end of May.
If the extension was any longer, London would have to put forward candidates for election. There are currently 73 MEPs from the UK and Northern Ireland.
The private comments follow EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier indicating that he does not believe Prime Minister Theresa May will have enough time to get the Withdrawal Agreement through the House of Commons in time.
May previously said that Article 50 could be extended if the Bill was voted down by Parliament on March 12th and has since faced backlash from hard-line Brexiteers over the prospect of extending the deadline. The key vote was originally scheduled for February 27th, but May decided to put it back to March 12th, following the EU-League of Arab States Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt at the of last month.
But commentators say any delay to Brexit would mean prolonging the uncertainty hanging over UK agriculture. The UK’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters said ‘any extension of Article 50 does not take ‘no deal’ off the table completely, it would simply delay the exit date.’ Noting that May had said that any extension would not be for long, Batters said that ‘there would continue to be no certainty for British farmers as to what our trading relationship would be with the EU after this date.’
It was ‘unacceptable for British businesses, including farmers, to be in this position,’ the farm leader said. ‘It is vital that, if there is to be an extension, that time is spent productively by Parliament in delivering a deal which will work for Britain.’
From Ireland’s perspective, the prospect of an extension does not solve anything, with a lack of clarity surrounding the border – the so-called backstop – and the country’s future trading relationship with its nearest neighbour.
• Rose O’Donovan is the Editor-in-Chief of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS.