DUBLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday she hopes cross-party crisis talks in London to try to break the domestic deadlock over Britain’s exit from the European Union can produce a common position by the time EU leaders meet next week.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose deal to leave the EU has been rejected in parliament three times, has turned to the opposition Labour Party in a last-ditch bid to pass the divorce terms she signed with the bloc’s leaders in November.
“We hope that intensive discussions in London can lead even by next Wednesday, when we will have our extraordinary summit, to a position that British Prime Minister Theresa May can present to us, that we can then discuss,” Merkel told a news conference with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin.
“We will then stay together as 27. We will do everything, as I’ve already said, to the last hour to prevent a disorderly exit.”
Merkel added that there had been a lot of movement in the British position over the past few days and Varadkar said EU leaders must be patient while talks continued, to avoid Britain leaving without a deal - an outcome that would impact his country more than any other member state.
“This is an outcome that none of us want to see. Matters continue to play out in London and I think we need to be patient and understanding of the predicament they’re in. But of course any further extension must require and must have a credible and realistic way forward,” he said.
The leaders also discussed how to keep Ireland’s 500 km (350 mile) border with British-governed Northern Ireland open even if Britain leaves without a deal. The future of what will be the UK’s only EU land frontier after Brexit has been a major hurdle in efforts to ensure an orderly exit.
With Dublin also pledging to maintain the integrity of the EU’s single market, where goods move freely around the bloc without the need for checks, Merkel said the EU “simply have to” work out a way to achieve those twin aims with London, whatever shape Brexit takes.
“You have the same saying that we have in Germany, where there is a will there is a way,” she said.
Britain, Ireland and the EU fear the installation of physical customs infrastructure on the border could reignite largely dormant sectarian tensions and prove a tempting target for militants seeking a united Ireland and those who oppose it.
To emphasize that point, Varadkar arranged for residents who live along the border to go to Dublin to meet Merkel and explain what impact any return of frontier checks would have on their lives.
“I think her own background, living on one side of a wall, she understood the very personal stories that people shared,” Peter Sheridan, a former policeman and the head of the peace-building cross border charity Co-operation Ireland, said after the meeting, referring to Merkel’s upbringing in East Germany.
“I’ve no doubt the chancellor went away well informed about the impact.”
Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Berlin and Graham Fahy in Dublin; Editing by Alison Williams and William Maclean