Angela Merkel has likened the Irish border question to the fall of the Iron Curtain and said Theresa May must bring worked-out proposals to a meeting of EU leaders next week.
Speaking on a visit to Dublin, the German chancellor recalled the “heavy death toll” it took to bring about a borderless island of Ireland and spoke of her determination to avoid divisions re-emerging after Brexit.
“I personally come, after all, from a country that for many years was divided by a wall,” the chancellor said.
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“For 34 years I lived behind the Iron Curtain so I know only too well what it means once borders vanish, once walls fall and that one needs to do anything in order to bring about a peaceful cooperation.
“After all a heavy death toll has been taken here throughout the Troubles.”
Speaking alongside the chancellor, Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, said he knew of only three ways to prevent a hard border from re-emerging: Britain staying in the EU, it adopting a soft Norway-plus Brexit or ratifying the withdrawal agreement.
Asked whether she thought a hard border could be avoided, Ms Merkel said: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”.
In a joint press conference following meetings together to discuss Brexit, both leaders appeared positive about talks taking place in London between the government and Labour to find a cross-party solution.
Ms Merkel said: “We do hope that the intensive discussions that are ongoing in London will lead to a situation by next Wednesday when we have our special council meeting where prime minister Theresa May will have something to table to us on the basis of which we can continue to talk.”
Asked what conditions the UK might have to follow if it wanted to delay Brexit again, she added: “Over the past few days we have seen that there is quite a lot of movement, even in the British internal debate. So as of today, I am not in a position to answer speculative questions.”
Mr Varadkar said: “Matters continue to play out in London and I think we need to be patient and understanding of the predicament that they are in, but of course any further extension must require and must have a credible way forward.”
MPs last night narrowly voted through a law that would require the government to seek a long extension of Article 50 to avoid a no-deal Brexit. Such an extension would, however, require the unanimous approval of EU leaders – who have said it would need a purpose.
French president Emmanuel Macron, seen as a hardliner on the issue, said he was open to an extension in the case of the UK deciding to hold a general election, a second referendum or if there was a serious process taking place in Westminster to try to come to an agreement.
But the situation has been complicated by the date of the European parliament elections, which are due to take place at the end of May. The EU has warned that any further extension beyond 22 May would require the UK to take part in these elections for legal reasons and possibly run until the end of the year.
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