U.K. Reassures Ireland May's Brexit Pivot Is Real, Source Says

Emma Ross-Thomas
May's Bid to Break Brexit Impasse Stalls as Labour Disappointed

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May’s government sought to reassure Ireland, a key player in the Brexit logjam, that its latest efforts to break the impasse were genuine, rather than a ruse or an attempt to deflect blame, according to a person familiar with the matter.

David Lidington, May’s de facto deputy, called Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Tuesday to explain her initiative to begin talks with opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a bid to end the deadlock, according to the person, who asked not to be named because the conversation was private.

On the call, he assured Coveney that preparations to hold European Parliament elections, a key condition for the U.K. to win a longer extension, were real.

“May allies insist her big offer to the Labour leader is genuine. His team is polite, saying he will negotiate seriously, but are wary and sense a trap,” according to Mujtaba Rahman, managing director at Eurasia Group. “ Corbyn has been determined not to ‘own’ what he calls a ‘Tory Brexit.”’

Irish support is key for the U.K. as the current impasse revolves around the need for a so-called backstop to keep the border in Ireland invisible after the U.K. exit from the bloc. Coveney on Wednesday said the government would back a short extension, while Prime Minister Leo Varadkar signaled his openness to a longer postponement.

Dublin would welcome a move toward a softer Brexit, as it makes that task of avoiding a hard border less onerous. May is met Corbyn on Wednesday to try to thrash out a Brexit compromise, which is likely to mean keeping closer ties to the European Union.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday Ireland is at the focal point of the EU’s efforts to find a deal that allows for an orderly Brexit.

“We often say Europe is a question of war and peace, and here you can basically see that it is a question of violence and non-violence,” Merkel told reporters after meeting Eastern state premiers in the Thuringian village of Neudietendorf. Merkel is traveling to Dublin to meet Varadkar on Thursday.

--With assistance from Arne Delfs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emma Ross-Thomas in London at erossthomas@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Vidya Root at vroot@bloomberg.net, Dara Doyle

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