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Varadkar warns against 'rolling cliff edge' as leaders meet for crunch summit

Varadkar repeated his assertion that the EU needs to cut the UK some slack on an extension.

Updated Mar 21st 2019, 12:55 PM

leo1 Source: European People's Party/Twitter

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has warned against a “rolling cliff edge” situation as EU leaders meet for a crunch summit just eight days until the scheduled Brexit date of 29 March. 

Speaking to reporters in Brussels Varadkar said the EU needed to cut Britain “a little bit of slack” and give consideration to their request for a short extension. 

Theresa May confirmed her decision to seek a three month extension to Article 50, the mechanism by which the UK is exiting the EU, yesterday. 

Some European leaders warned the date would have to be 23 May, the same date as the European elections, while others warned they would veto any extension unless the British Prime Minister presented a credible strategy at this week’s summit. 

May was thrown something of a lifeline yesterday afternoon when European Council President Donald Tusk said a short extension would be possible but that it would be conditional on a positive result when the withdrawal agreement goes back to the Commons. 

He also said the 30 June date had its merits but created “a series of questions of a legal and political nature”.

Reports have emerged that an extension until 23 May will be given to the UK on condition that May’s draft Brexit deal is passed in the House of Commons next week.  

In an address to the nation last night May said she was on the side of the public and reiterated her call for MPs to back the twice-rejected withdrawal deal. 

Asked on her way into the summit today if she was prepared to lead UK out on a ‘no deal’ basis in 8 days she didn’t rule it out but reiterated that the Commons should vote to back the deal in the coming days. 

A vote could take place as early as Tuesday next. 

No deal

If the deal is rejected at the third time of asking, there’s still a possibility the EU could come back and offer a much longer extension in order to avoid the so-called ‘rolling cliff-edge’. This would require the UK to take part in EU elections. 

May has said that’s not something she would countenance and strongly hinted she would quit if forced into a corner on the issue by the EU and parliament (we’ve gone into detail on some of the scenarios that could throw up here). 

Speaking on his way into the summit this afternoon Varadkar said everyone needed to bear in mind that nobody wanted at no-deal exit. 

“No deal can only ever be a British choice. Let’s not forget the March 29th deadline was set by the United Kingdom.”

He reiterated that the UK always had the choice if it so wished to revoke Article 50 at the last moment “and they do not need permission to do that, so no-deal will be a British choice and a British decision”. 

He said that if the UK was to remain in the EU beyond this summer it would have to take part in European elections. 

That message was echoed earlier by Phil Hogan, the Agriculture Commissioner and former Fine Gael minister. 

“Our legal advice is there would be European elections in the UK if an extension was granted beyond 23 May,” Hogan said.

- With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha in Brussels

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