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Merkel vows to 'fight until the last hour' to avoid no-deal Brexit ahead of Varadkar meeting

Meanwhile, talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are continuing in London today.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin in March.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin in March.
Image: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images

ANGELA MERKEL IS set to meet Leo Varadkar in Dublin today to discuss Brexit.

The German Chancellor and Taoiseach will hold a meeting in Farmleigh House this afternoon.

Ahead of their formal meeting, they will participate in a roundtable discussion with people from Northern Ireland and the border area.

Members of the public will share their personal experiences and perspectives on the impact any return to a hard border would have on border communities and businesses.

Some of the people due to attend have direct personal experience of the conflict before the Good Friday Agreement.

“It is important to hear their voices as we work together to deal with the challenges that Brexit presents,” a statement from the Taoiseach’s office said.

Merkel has vowed to “fight until the last hour” to avoid a no-deal outcome — something which could have a huge impact on the island of Ireland.

Speaking at a press conference in Berlin yesterday, Merkel said an orderly Brexit would be “in interest of Britain but also in our interest”. She added that a hard border could affect “peace in Ireland”.

Her meeting with Varadkar comes amid ongoing talks between the British government and the Labour Party.

MPs yesterday voted in favour of a Brexit delay that would avoid Britain crashing out of the European Union on 12 April.

With options running out, Prime Minister Theresa May switched course and invited Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for talks yesterday in a bid to forge a compromise that avoids a chaotic no-deal departure from the EU in eight days’ time.

Negotiating teams for both sides are due to meet again today for a full day of discussions.

May’s withdrawal agreement has been rejected three times by parliament and patience is wearing thin in Brussels as the deadline to end Britain’s 46-year EU membership nears with no agreement in sight.

May said on Tuesday she would seek another “short” Brexit extension at an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels on 10 April.

313 v 312 on bill

In a rushed parliamentary bid to avoid Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal next Friday, MPs voted by the narrowest of margins late yesterday in favour of draft legislation that would force the government to seek to delay Brexit.

The vote passed by just one — 313 votes in favour and 312 against — in the lower House of Commons and the bill will now pass to the upper House of Lords for final approval today.

“We are disappointed that MPs have chosen to back this bill,” a government spokesman said.

The prime minister has already set out a clear process through which we can leave the European Union with a deal and we have already committed to seeking a further extension.

“If passed, this bill would place a severe constraint on the government’s ability to negotiate an extension and reflect this new date in UK statute books before April 12.”

The EU would have to agree to any form of extension. 

Earlier yesterday evening, MPs voted 310-310 to hold more indicative votes on Monday. House Speaker John Bercow had the deciding vote, and voted against the amendment, quoting precedent. 

First talks ‘constructive’

May said yesterday’s talks with Corbyn were “constructive”, suggesting she might be prepared to bend her previous principles and listen to proposals for much closer post-Brexit trade relations with the bloc than many Conservatives are prepared to accept.

Both sides showed “flexibility and a commitment to bring the current Brexit uncertainty to a close”, a spokesman for May’s Downing Street office said.

“We have agreed a programme of work to ensure we deliver for the British people, protecting jobs and security,” he added.

However, Corbyn said: “There hasn’t been as much change as I expected but we will have further discussions … to explore technical issues” today.

He told May Labour wanted a customs union with the EU, access to its single market and raised “the option of a public vote to prevent crashing out or leaving on a bad deal”.

If the talks between the government and Labour fail to reach a compromise that both can support, May hopes the two sides can come up with mutually acceptable options that would be put up for binding parliamentary votes.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2019  

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Órla Ryan

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