May travels to Brussels as Irish snap election threatens Brexit talks
Brussels: Ireland faces a snap election which risks disrupting delicate Brexit negotiations after the Irish prime minister backed his beleaguered deputy in a scandal that could topple Leo Varadkar's minority government.
The controversy loomed over on Friday's Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels, where Theresa May will meet European Council president Donald Tusk in a bid to break the Brexit deadlock and kick-start delayed UK-EU trade talks. She will also meet the leaders of Belgium, Lithuania and Denmark.
"Ireland does not need an election right now," said Simon Coveney, Ireland's foreign minister, in Brussels on Friday.
He added: "We do not believe the country needs that in the context of some of the enormous decisions that will be taken on Ireland's future in the context of our relationship with Britain at a summit in three weeks' time." Theresa May has made clear she is willing to lay down extra money to meet the EU's €60bn divorce bill demands only if the bloc's leaders can guarantee the widening of talks to trade and the ter of a transition period.
The UK's negotiating team had been led to believe by the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that a pledge to ensure no member state lost out in the first two years after Brexit, and to honour financial commitments made in the past, would be enough, only for Germany and France to overrule the European commission official.
At a meeting of the cabinet last week, it was agreed that the UK would offer more in the coming days than the €20bn put on the table in Florence, in an attempt to move the negotiations on from the opening issues of citizens' rights, the divorce bill and the Irish border. However, the agreement was struck on the proviso that the EU guaranteed progress on to a second phase of talks at a European council meeting on 14 and 15 December.
The EU member states, however, need to consult their national parliaments, making such a guarantee, at the point at which the financial offer is made, almost impossible.
At a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday, it is understood that concerns were shared by many member states if the stand-off continues for much longer that there will not be enough time to have an EU position by December.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, will need to present any offer to the Bundestag. The Scandinavian countries also have considerable domestic hurdles to leap before they can give their consent to judging that sufficient progress has been in made in phase one.