EU to discuss Brexit delay as Britain squabbles over an election
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union will discuss on Friday the length of another delay to Brexit after Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanded an election to break the paralysis that has gripped British politics for over three years.
Just a week before Britain was due to exit the EU, Johnson admitted that he would not meet his “do or die” deadline to leave the EU on Oct. 31 and demanded at Dec. 12 election to end what he cast as the “nightmare” of the Brexit crisis.
European Union envoys to Brussels will discuss the length of another delay to Brexit at a meeting on Friday. An official from the bloc said the choice was between 3 months and a “two-tier” lag but warned that a decision might not come just yet.
According to a draft decision by the 27 EU countries staying on together after Brexit, which was seen by Reuters on Thursday evening, the delay would be granted by the bloc “with the view to allowing for the finalization of the ratification” of the divorce agreement sealed with Johnson last week.
While the draft text, which will be debated in Brussels on Friday, for now leaves the new Brexit date blank, it said the split could take place earlier if ratification is completed earlier – an idea known as “flextension”, an amalgamation of the words “flexible” and “extension”.
“Consequently, the withdrawal should take place on the first day of the month following the completion of the ratification procedure, or on (blank), whichever is earliest,” it read.
The EU official explained: “It’s basically between a three-month flextension or a two-tier one.”
Under the first idea, Britain would leave on Jan.31, 2020, three months after the current departure date due on Oct.31. The second one would include a second specific date when Britain could leave.
Johnson won the leadership of the ruling Conservative party to become prime minister in a minority government by staking his career on getting Brexit done by Oct. 31, but after parliament rejected his proposed legislative timetable on Tuesday he will fail to do that.
Brexit was initially supposed to have taken place on March 29 but Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May was forced to delay twice – first to April 12 and then to Oct. 31 – as parliament defeated her Brexit deal by margins of between 58 and 230 votes earlier this year.
As Brussels mulls another delay, it must take into account the continued battle in London over how, when and whether to leave the bloc.
The EU official said: “It’s unclear if a decision can be taken tomorrow … some might want to see the result of the early election motion.”
Johnson said in a letter to opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn he would give parliament more time to approve his Brexit deal by Nov. 6 but lawmakers must on Monday back a December election, Johnson’s third attempt to try to force a snap vote.
“Prolonging this paralysis into 2020 would have dangerous consequences,” he said. “If I win a majority in this election, we will then ratify the great new deal that I have negotiated, get Brexit done in January and the country will move on.”
Corbyn said he would wait to see what the EU decides on a Brexit delay before deciding which way to vote on Monday, repeating that he could only back an election when the risk of Johnson taking Britain out of the EU without a deal to smooth the transition was off the table.
French President Emmanuel Macron has previously managed to sway the bloc’s extension decisions significantly from the plans prepared in advance of the bloc’s meetings and the line Paris would take is another risk factor on Friday.
A second EU official said: “We’ll see tomorrow. Might also be an argument for waiting one day more to see what happens in London.”
A third one added: “If there are elections in the UK, it is clear to everybody that we need to give Britain a long extension.”
The draft text also said: “The further extension cannot be allowed to undermine the regular functioning of the (European) Union and its institutions,” a clause the bloc hopes would shield its vital interests from the protracted Brexit drama.
More than three years since Britons voted to leave, the fate of Brexit remains uncertain, ranging from a disorderly split at the end of this month, to another delay and a national election in bitterly divided Britain.