EU to delay Brexit until February
LONDON, Oct 21: The Sunday Times has reported that the European Union will delay Brexit until February 2020 if Prime Minister Boris Johnson is unable to get his deal past parliament this week.
The delay would be "fungible", meaning that Britain could leave earlier, on Nov 1 or 15, December or January, if his deal is ratified before the extension ends, the newspaper said, citing diplomatic sources.
No decision will be taken until EU governments have the chance to assess the chances of the withdrawal treaty getting through parliament before Tuesday this week, the newspaper added.
Johnson prepared to on Monday make a second attempt to ram his EU divorce deal through parliament and avoid the political damage of delaying Brexit next week.
Another momentous week in the tortuous saga could end with Johnson engineering a divorce from Brussels that breaks many of the island nation's economic relations with Europe after 46 years of EU membership. British lawmakers dealt a dramatic blow to Johnson's Brexit plan at the weekend by refusing to give their backing to his revised withdrawal agreement until the legislation needed to ratify it has passed.
His foes are now forging new alliances and trying to attach amendments that could either force Johnson to accept closer trade ties -- or abandon the deal and accept a third delay this year.
The option of extending Brexit past the latest October 31 deadline is now in the hands of the 27 remaining EU member states.
Britain has been struggling to agree on how to leave the EU, three-and-a-half years since a referendum on Brexit that has left the country deeply divided.
Johnson has built his entire Brexit strategy on the premise of using the pressures of time to force everyone to stop bickering and agree an exit plan by the end of the month. "This is the chance to leave the EU with a deal on October 31," Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said Monday.
But Johnson was mandated by UK lawmakers Saturday to send a letter to Brussels asking for more time. The British leader ended up sending three letters on Saturday. The only one he actually signed said an "extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners" and that he was firmly against a delay.
The manoeuvre is designed to minimise the political damage of Johnson going back on his word and seeking an extension ahead of an early general election most expect in the coming months.
The top civil court in Scotland will hear a challenge Monday on whether Johnson's half-hearted request broke the law.
But officials in Brussels said Johnson's request was valid. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Berlin would be ready to back a short extension to the Brexit deadline if the British government needs more time to win parliamentary approval for the departure deal.
"If there are problems in Britain with the ratification steps (for the Brexit agreement with the European Union), then I would not rule out a short technical extension," he told reporters.
Maas said that if the British House of Commons rejected the latest deal outright that the situation for EU member states would be more complicated.
"Whether then there would be an extension of the whole thing would have to be looked at within the European Union and then a decision taken but I don't think it's sensible or appropriate to speculate about that now," he said.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, a close confidant of Chancellor Angela Merkel, also indicated he would only be open to a brief delay beyond the October 31 Brexit deadline.
"A good and orderly solution is still possible, if (Prime Minister) Boris Johnson now reaches out to Parliament to seek a cross-party solution," he told the daily Bild.
"Any more internal UK power games would jeopardise jobs and prosperity. If an extension of a few weeks is needed, I'd have no problem with that."
Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert declined to be drawn on her view of a possible extension, saying only that "the EU 27 (member states) must now consult with each other)".
British lawmakers dealt a dramatic blow to Johnson's Brexit plan at the weekend by refusing to give their backing to his revised withdrawal agreement until the legislation needed to ratify it has passed.
His foes are now forging new alliances and trying to attach amendments that could either force Johnson to accept closer trade ties -- or abandon the deal and accept a third delay this year. -AFP