Brexit: Irish PM Varadkar backs January extension

By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI Political Reporter

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The Irish prime minister has said he will support an extension of the Brexit deadline until 31 January 2020.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was speaking after talking to European Council President Donald Tusk on Wednesday.

The EU is yet to confirm how long it will approve another delay for, following the UK's request on Saturday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson "paused" his Brexit bill on Tuesday after MPs rejected his plan to get it signed off in three days.

It is likely the EU will offer a so-called flextension - with the option that the UK could leave earlier than 31 January if a Brexit deal has been passed by then.

Speaking in the Dáil (Irish parliament), Mr Varadkar said EU leaders could hold an emergency meeting if Mr Tusk did not get consensus for an extension.

"My bags are always packed for Brussels and packed they are again," added the taoiseach.

image captionSir Jeffrey Donaldson said the "sensible thing" for the government was to talk to the DUP

On Tuesday evening, the Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) 10 votes dealt a blow to the PM's plan to fast-track the bill through Parliament.

The party's chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he believes the "penny has dropped" with the government that it needs the party's votes to pass Brexit legislation.

The votes of the DUP MPs and the independent North Down MP Lady Hermon meant the government lost by 14 votes.

Mr Johnson is awaiting the EU's verdict on approving another extension and Sir Jeffrey said the prime minister should use the time to talk to the party.

"I think he realises now that without the DUP on board getting his bill and his agreement through the House of Commons is going to be hugely challenging for him," he said.

"So I think the sensible thing for the government is to sit down with us and see if we can work this out."

image copyrightUK Parliament
image captionBoris Johnson "paused" his Brexit bill after MPs rejected his plan to have it quickly signed off

Northern Ireland Affairs Committee chairman Simon Hoare said he was sorry the DUP did not support the withdrawal deal because it was the "best... that one can get as far as Northern Ireland is concerned".

But he added: "The DUP have played a hand of cards - I'm not entirely sure the hand of cards has played out as they anticipated it to be.

"What is now clear is that there is a cross-party alliance to deliver the Brexit deal negotiated by the prime minister and that did not require the DUP to vote for it."

MPs backed Mr Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement Bill on Tuesday but minutes later voted against the timetable, leaving it "in limbo".

The prime minister warned he would push for an election if MPs rejected his timetable and the EU granted a delay.

After the result in the Commons, Mr Johnson said it was Parliament, not the government, that had requested an extension.

'We never trust anybody'

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds denied reports that some of the party's MPs regretted not voting for the Brexit deal struck by previous prime minister Theresa May.

"Under Theresa May's deal Northern Ireland was part of the EU's customs arrangement, the customs union fully," Mr Dodds said on Wednesday.

"What she had tacked on was a customs partnership... that would then fall away and we would be having precisely the same problem we're having now.

"We foresaw this and that's why we opposed it."

He added: "We never trust anybody, except ourselves and our electorate and in that we've been proved absolutely right."

What happens next?

If an election were to be triggered this week, the earliest it could take place would be Thursday 28 November, as the law requires 25 days between an election being called in Parliament and polling day.

MPs had been due to debate the bill over Wednesday and Thursday but will now return to discussing the contents of the Queen's Speech, which put forward the government's domestic agenda for the new session of Parliament.

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