Wednesday 23 October 2019 - 19:32

European Leaders Back Call to Grant Brexit Delay to End of January

Story Code : 823700
European Leaders Back Call to Grant Brexit Delay to End of January
Following a phone call between Tusk, the president of the European council, and Varadkar on Wednesday morning, the two men agreed the EU27 should agree to the request reluctantly tabled by Boris Johnson on Saturday.

“The taoiseach confirmed his support for President Tusk’s proposal to grant the request for an extension, which was sought by the UK,” a statement from the Irish government said. “They noted it would still be possible for the UK to leave before 31 January 2020 if the withdrawal agreement has been ratified in advance of that date.”

David Sassoli, the European parliament president, pointed out there was only one request “on the table” and it deserved the EU27’s support.

“After the vote of the British parliament to allow more time to examine details of the withdrawal agreement and Boris Johnson’s decision to pause the bill following the vote, the British government’s request for an extension until 31 January remains on the table,” he said, The Guardian reported.

“I think it is advisable, as requested by Donald Tusk, that the European council should accept this extension. This extension will allow the United Kingdom to clarify its position and the European parliament to exercise its role.”

The EU27 need to agree unanimously on the issue of an extension. Sources said their response would not be given until Friday at the earliest.

Tusk tweeted that he had informed Johnson of his reasons for backing a three month extension. “In my phone call with PM Boris Johnson I gave reasons why I’m recommending the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension”, he wrote.

The public show of support for a further delay up to 31 January is being seen in Brussels as an attempt to force the hand of the French president, Emmanuel Macron.

The Elysee Palace has issued a series of statements pouring doubt on the wisdom of an extension longer than a few days. Macron believes he was right in April when he pushed for a shorter, one-off delay to focus minds in the British parliament on the need to ratify the deal.

There is concern in Brussels and Dublin, however, that by offering a shorter extension, the EU would be dragged into the British internal debate and be left culpable for a no-deal Brexit if the House of Commons failed to swiftly approve the deal.

EU ambassadors are to meet on Wednesday evening to discuss an extension.

EU sources said that a shorter extension could only be considered if Johnson formally and publicly changed the nature of the extension he was seeking.

If the EU’s leaders are unable to agree on the UK’s proposed extension, a summit could be called as early as Friday.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, told reporters in Strasbourg: “First of all we need some clarification on the UK side what will be the next step for them and as far as the request asked last week by the British government for the extension, it’s for EU27 to decide. There is a current consultation now launched by president Tusk.”

On Tuesday evening, MPs voted down the government’s accelerated timetable for passing the withdrawal agreement bill through the Commons in three days. Johnson subsequently said he would pause the progress of the bill until the EU responded to his request for a delay.

Downing Street sources briefed that the prime minister would push for a general election if the EU granted the three-month extension Johnson had been instructed to request under the Benn act.

In response, Tusk had said he hoped to find agreement on an extension to 31 January through “written procedure”. Such a move would allow the EU27 to agree without holding a summit.

“Following PM’s decision to pause the process of ratification of the withdrawal agreement, and in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit, I will recommend the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension. For this I will propose a written procedure,” he tweeted.