EU mulls delay as Britain says Johnson’s deal is the Brexit endgame
LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) — The United Kingdom will ultimately leave the European Union on the terms of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal, a senior Downing Street source said on Thursday, as EU leaders mulled offering London a three-month flexible Brexit delay.
More than three years after voting 52%-48% to be the first sovereign country to leave the European project, the United Kingdom is waiting for the EU to decide how long the latest delay to Brexit should be.
“This ends with us leaving with the PM’s deal,” a Downing Street source who spoke on condition of anonymity said. “We will leave with a deal, with the PM’s deal.”
When asked when Brexit would happen, given that the current deadline of Oct. 31 is only a week away, the source said: “Parliament has taken back control.”
Johnson won the top job by staking his career on getting Brexit done by Oct. 31, though he is almost certain to fail to do that after parliament defeated his proposed legislative timetable on Tuesday.
So will there be an election before Christmas? “Perhaps,” the Downing Street source said. “We shall see.”
As British politicians discuss the pros and cons of a Christmas election, responsibility for the timing of Brexit has passed to other European capitals: Berlin supports a three-month delay, while Paris is pushing for a shorter one.
Timing is crucial to the Brexit riddle.
While both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron appear to be fatigued by Brexit, they fear a no-deal exit that would almost certainly hurt global growth, roil financial markets and create a potentially deeper EU crisis.
To offer Britain a long extension would take the pressure off British lawmakers to approve Johnson’s deal and open up possibilities such as a referendum on it. A short extension might focus minds in the British parliament.
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.
Johnson was forced by parliament on Saturday to send a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk requesting a delay until Jan. 31. He did so reluctantly, sending an unsigned photocopied note, but the correspondence was accepted.
“Our policy remains that we should not delay,” Johnson told parliament on Tuesday after parliament defeated his extremely tight legislative timetable for ratifying the deal he clinched in Brussels a week ago.
There is broad consensus among the EU 27 that a delay is needed but an EU official said several member states had shared concerns voiced by France, in particular on the lack of clarity of what purpose the extension would serve.
“France is not convinced by the idea of a long extension, and the 27 are looking to find an agreement by the end of the week,” a senior French diplomat said. “Several countries are reluctant, such as the Netherlands and Poland.”
Poland said it wanted to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
An EU diplomat said that while no decision had yet been taken, the bloc would grant one. EU ambassadors meet on Friday to discuss a Brexit delay.
“Unanimous view is that an extension will be needed to overcome the deadlock in London and that decision should preferably be taken by written procedure – mood in the room points to a longer extension,” the EU diplomat said.
Ireland said it supported a flexible extension – dubbed a “flextension” – including a break clause that would allow Brexit to take place before the deadline if Johnson won approval for his deal. Italy also supports such an extension.
“I think that extension will be a flexible one,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.