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Ireland forced to hold referendum if UK does not take European Parliament seats

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA

The Irish prime minister warned on Thursday that Ireland would need to hold a referendum following a Brexit extension if the UK decided not to elect representatives to the European Parliament.

Prime minister Theresa May is in Brussels to attend a European leaders summit, during which she will make a case for a Brexit extension until 30 June.

But the EU has warned that any extension that goes beyond 23 May — the date of European elections — would mean that the UK would be forced to elect new members to the bloc’s parliament.

If the UK decides not to elect these members despite remaining a full member of the European Union, the bloc would be forced to change its treaties, Varadkar said.

“We all know how complicated that is. It would even require a referendum in Ireland,” Varadkar said in Brussels.

Treaty changes in the EU require the approval of every single member state, each of which have different procedures.

In Ireland, this procedure involves a referendum. In most other countries, changes can be approved by national parliaments.

“The treaties that established the European Union say that European citizens have a right to be represented in the European Parliament,” he said.

“So if the United Kingdom is still a member state, and British citizens are still European citizens, they have a right to representatives in the European Parliament. It can’t be taken away from them.”

The Irish government famously held two votes on the approval of the EU’s Lisbon treaty, after 53% of voters rejected it in a 2008 referendum. It was approved by more than 67% of votes in 2009.