EU council president Donald Tusk points to ‘long extension’ of Brexit deadline

Leaders in the bloc are due to meet at the European Council on March 21 and 22 to discuss the divorce

European Council President Donald Tusk has said he is open to a 'long extension' of Article 50.  AFP PHOTO
European Council President Donald Tusk has said he is open to a 'long extension' of Article 50.  AFP PHOTO

Donald Tusk, the EU council president, says he is open to a ‘long extension’ of Article 50, the document that legally determines when the UK will leave the EU.

“During my consultations ahead of European Council, I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it,” the Polish politician said on Thursday morning.

EU leaders will meet to discuss Brexit on 21 and 22 March.

UK parliament will hold a vote on whether to extend Article 50 this evening. If an extension is voted for, it will raise hopes of groups campaigning for a second referendum or “People’s Vote”.

On Wednesday, the British government proposed a short extension of Article 50 until June 30, so it can pass the necessary legislation on an updated Brexit plan. On the same evening, MPs also rejected a no-Deal Brexit scenario – although the vote is not binding, and the UK could still leave the EU without a deal on March 29.

After two devastating defeats, British prime minister Theresa May will make a third attempt to get the backing of Parliament for her Brexit deal next week. She told MPs that if that she doesn’t get their backing, a lengthy Brexit delay may be needed.

Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit co-ordinator for European Parliament, said Thursday that an extension would not be granted without additional clarity from London.

“Unless there is a clear majority in the House of Commons for something precise, there is no reason at all for the European Council to agree on prolongation,” he said in a tweet. “Even the motion table for this evening by the UK government recognises this.”

Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, questioned the point of an extension on Wednesday, telling MEPs in the European Parliament: “Why would we extend these discussions? The discussion on Article 50, that is done and dusted. We have the withdrawal agreement, it is there. That is the question asked and we are waiting for the answer to that.”

Barnier also said that the EU must hear from Britain how it plans to proceed with Brexit before determining a delay to Article 50. The previous day, he said that the EU had “done everything it can to help get the Withdrawal Agreement over the line”, adding that the impasse could only be solved in the UK.

“Our ‘no-deal’ preparations are now more important than ever before,” he added.

Elsewhere in Europe, German leader Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that securing an Article 50 delay to the June 30 would be “easy”, British paper The Guardian reported, citing senior diplomatic sources.

On Thursday, Irish leader Leo Varadkar said that in the event of no-deal Brexit, he would work to protect Ireland’s exporters, fishermen and farmers.

Speaking at a national childcare scheme launch on Monday, Mr Varadkar said any Article 50 extension must have a purpose and must not lead to a rolling cliff edge scenario the coming months.

Published: March 14, 2019 04:20 PM


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