Brexit: EU leaders due to grant delay but might seek longer extension
Donald Tusk says ‘little reason to believe’ PM can get deal ratified by end of June
European Union leaders are expected grant British prime minister Theresa May a second delay to Brexit but could demand she accepts a much longer extension.
France is pushing for conditions to limit Britain’s ability to undermine the EU
Mrs May went to Berlin and Paris to ask Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to grant an extension from April 12th.
An advance draft of conclusions for Wednesday’s emergency EU summit said Britain would be granted another delay on certain conditions.
“The United Kingdom shall facilitate the achievement of the Union’s tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union’s objectives,” read the draft seen by Reuters.
Mrs May has asked the EU for a Brexit delay to June 30th but the draft left the end-date blank pending a decision by the other 27 national leaders on Wednesday.
Shortly before Mrs May landed in Paris, an official in Mr Macron’s office said that “in the scenario of an extended delay, one year would seem too long for us”.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Macron would not veto Mrs May’s extension but wanted conditions attached. “He [Macron] certainly wants to know about conditionality, particularly the issue of the United Kingdom being involved in future [EU] decision-making,” Mr Varadkar said.
On Tuesday evening European Council president Donald Tusk said there is “little reason to believe” the ratification process of Mrs May’s Brexit deal can be completed by the end of June.
In an invitation letter to members of the council ahead of their meeting on Wednesday he said: “In reality, granting such an extension would increase the risk of a rolling series of short extensions and emergency summits, creating new cliff-edge dates.
“This, in turn, would almost certainly overshadow the business of the EU27 in the months ahead.
“The continued uncertainty would also be bad for our businesses and citizens. Finally, if we failed to agree on any next extension, there would be a risk of an accidental no-deal Brexit.
“This is why I believe we should also discuss an alternative, longer extension. One possibility would be a flexible extension, which would last only as long as necessary and no longer than one year, as beyond that date we will need to decide unanimously on some key European projects.”
It comes as Mrs May was on Tuesday overwhelmingly backed by MPs to seek to delay Brexit to June 30th. The Commons approved a Government motion on the extension request by 420 votes to 110, a majority of 310.
Earlier in the day Mrs May met Dr Merkel in Berlin for another round of Brexit talks .
Outside the meeting German officials worked to battle déja vu of British political spin: that Dr Merkel was open to a time-limited backstop for the Irish Border and to reopening the withdrawal agreement. Such claims had “no basis in fact” Berlin officials said.
EU leaders will not make a British commitment to sign up to a customs union a precondition of granting an extension when they meet tomorrow.
However, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier made clear that such a pledge “would give sense” to May’s extension demand.
Mr Barnier and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney both insisted it was not their place to formulate positions for the British, but they said that the Union would be very willing to incorporate such a customs union proposal from the UK in the political declaration on the future relationship.
“They’ve got to ask for it first,” Mr Coveney said.
Speaking to journalists in Luxembourg following a meeting of European affairs ministers to prepare for the summit on Wednesday, Mr Barnier welcomed the ongoing talks between the Conservative and Labour parties in Britain.
He made it clear that the demand that Mrs May now also set out a clear plan, or a “roadmap”, to leaders as to how she can achieve a majority in the House of Commons, remains essential.
Meanwhile, Irish officials have refused to confirm reports that Ireland will be participating in a mini-summit of states most affected by Brexit ahead of Wednesday’s European Council.
Mr Coveney said leaders would want a “credible” and “pretty definitive” plan for how the UK could end the stalemate before summer and get a “compromise middle ground position” that would get the withdrawal agreement ratified, with possible amendments to the political declaration, to allow an orderly Brexit.
Mr Barnier said the UK and the EU could add a customs union to the free trade agreement already proposed in the political declaration. This could be added rapidly, “within a few hours or days”, he said.
Mr Coveney said Mrs May is “well aware” of the expectations of her and suggested her visits to Paris and Berlin on Tuesday were about “outlining how she thinks she can get this done”.
And in the absence of a deal between Labour and the Conservatives, or any indication yet that Mrs May is willing to cross her red lines, “the EU leaders will make a judgment call tomorrow on whether there is a credible plan,” Mr Coveney said.
Among other issues discussed by ministers were questions about how to police British “good behaviour” or “sincere co-operation” promises should they remain in the union for any length of time. – Additional reporting Reuters