herald

Tuesday 19 November 2019

'UK election doesn't mean that no deal is dead', says Coveney

Prime minister Boris Johnson addressing the House of Commons yesterday
Prime minister Boris Johnson addressing the House of Commons yesterday
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Tanaiste Simon Coveney has warned there is still a possibility of a no-deal Brexit at the end of January.

Mr Coveney's warning will be relayed to ministers at a cabinet meeting today when he will brief them on the latest Brexit developments.

It comes after the EU formally granted a three-month extension to the Brexit deadline yesterday as the UK will hold a general election on December 12.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has only days to decide whether to call a general election here after Fine Gael TDs ramped up pressure on him to go to the country before Christmas.

Bickering

A crash-out Brexit tomorrow has been avoided and the UK will now not leave until January 31 - or sooner if the Brexit deal is ratified by MPs.

However, the Tanaiste's spokesman warned last night that "no-deal preparations will continue" and "the chance of a no deal has not been fully eliminated yet".

It could still happen at the end of January as Westminster has yet to ratify a deal.

After months of bickering in the House of Commons, legislation for an early general election on December 12 cleared after MPs voted in favour by 438 to 20.

Opposition MPs backed in principle the government's request to send voters to the polls in December, though prime minister Boris Johnson still faced a tussle over the exact date.

The road to polling day opened up when Jeremy Corbyn's opposition Labour Party changed its position.

Mr Johnson, who has had to abandon his vow to lead Britain out of the EU on October 31 "do or die", accused his opponents of wanting to prolong the Brexit process "until the 12th of never".

He told MPs there was no choice but "to go to the country to break free from this impasse".

Mr Johnson will campaign on the deal he negotiated with the EU earlier this month.

The withdrawal agreement was backed by MPs last week, but Mr Johnson failed to sec-ure support to fast-track the legislation through parliament before the now-defunct October 31 deadline.

Mr Corbyn said Labour would vote in favour of an early election because the prospect of Britain crashing out of the EU without a divorce deal had been taken off the table.

At home, with Brexit stalled following the EU's granting of a 'flextension' and an early general election looming in the UK, Mr Varadkar is coming under pressure to trigger an election here.

Fine Gael sources say there is a 50-50 chance an election campaign will be under way by the weekend.

Pressuring

Several ministers and Fine Gael TDs are privately pressuring the Taoiseach to call a snap poll, with November 29 the most likely date.

Party sources said preparations for an election are "very advanced", with manifestos and staffing arrangements almost finalised.

Last night, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said Mr Varadkar may feel that a December election in the UK gives him time to hold one here.

He said Fine Gael would try to make the election about Brexit to distract from "their failure to adequately address the crisis in healthcare, the lack of affordable housing and the rising cost of living".

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