Speaking ahead of the emergency summit in Brussels, he claimed half of the British population wants to remain a member of the European Union. He told reporters that Britain will not leave the bloc without a deal on Friday and signalled his openness to a long Brexit delay. But if when the UK leaves the EU, Mr Varadkar said the country should be allowed a say in future trade deals if a customs union is negotiated as part of the future trade deal.
He said: “I don’t anticipate Britain will leave on Friday. I’m pretty confident there will be an extension agreed today. What is still open is how long that extension will be and what the conditions will be.
“But I think the vast majority of people here in the European Union appreciate that the United Kingdom is in a difficult position, it doesn’t want to leave without a deal and at the moment it doesn’t want to leave with the deal. A lot of people, maybe half the population, don’t want to leave at all.
“I believe the consensus here in Brussels and across the European Union is to give the United Kingdom a little bit more time for the cross-party talks happening to conclude. And then we can review the situation in a few months time.”
Offering an olive branch to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to continue the cross-party talks with Mrs May, Mr Varadkar said the EU would be prepared to offer Britain “a say” in the bloc’s trading plans.
He added: “I know one thing that would line to be considered, and I know it is under consideration, is the possibility of a customs union being formed between the United Kingdom and the EU.
“Ultimately, the European Union is the biggest trade bloc in the world, we trade more than China and the US. And in the world of big blocs, it’s in the interest of the UK to be part of one of those blocs.
“It’s also in our interests to have the UK in our bloc and I think we would be generous in negotiating that understanding that Britain could not be a silent partner, which means it would have to have a say in the decisions made.”
Mrs May is expected to be offered a long delay to Britain’s EU membership after she addresses her fellow leaders later this afternoon.
EU leaders appear to be moving towards the long extension to the Article 50 exit clause proposed by Donald Tusk, the European Council president.
Czech prime minister Andrej Babis said: “I hope we will have a short discussion, not like our last time – eight hours!
“We will come to some agreement and the UK will get much more time than expected. I have a lot of patience. For me, Donald Tusk’s proposal, until the end of March next year, is fine.”
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said: “Theresa May has requested a further extension. One thing is important: any extension must be useful and serve a purpose. Our commons purpose is to ratify the withdrawal agreement, which is the only way to ensure the UK’s orderly withdrawal.
“Now is the time for leaders to decide.”