Diplomats have been told to expect the Prime Minister to request to an extension to Article 50, the EU’s exit clause, as she attempts to build a parliamentary consensus for Britain’s divorce. Even before the vote, officials had pondered extending the two-year negotiating period until July but now look set to go even further by suggesting Britain remain in the EU until the end of the year. This means Britain wouldn’t have officially left the EU over three years after 17.4 million Britons voted to leave the bloc in June 2016.
Previously, diplomats have been uncertain about offering Britain more time beyond March 29 unless Mrs May was to use the time to hold a second referendum, a general election or deliver a plan guaranteed to command a parliamentary majority.
The shift in EU policy comes as a reaction to the so-called ‘Meaningful Vote’, which saw the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal suffer a brutal defeat by 432 votes to 202.
Emmanuel Macron, the French President, said late on Tuesday night that he expects Mrs May to tell EU leaders that “we’re going to take more time to renegotiate something”.
“Maybe they will take more time and step over the European elections in order to find something else,” he added.
Nathalie Loiseau, France’s Europe minister, who plays a vital role in France’s Brexit strategy, said Britain would have to offer reassurances that the Ireland backstop would be retained in any request to delay Brexit.
Rebellious Conservative MPs and Mrs May’s parliamentary allies in the DUP largely rejected the deal because of the backstop, an insurance policy to avoid a hard border on Ireland.
Ms Loiseau said: “The first question is delay to do what?
“If it is to tell us that the solution envisaged for Ireland is an expiry date, we have already said that it is not possible. We need an assurance that the Irish solution is solid.”
Peter Altmair, Germany’s economy minister and a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, hinted at a shift Berlin’s policy on the possibility of extending Article 50.
The German minister told the BBC: “When parliament needs more time, then this is something that will have to be considered by the European Council, and personally I would see that as a reasonable request.”
“My impression is that the climate in Europe is very much in favour of an extension of Article 50 deadline,” according to Detlef Seif, an MP in Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats.
Any extension would not be without problems for the EU, who are testing the legal waters about any possible ramifications.
Extending Article 50 requires the unanimous support from the EU27 and would be voted on at a leaders summit.
An extension beyond July, when the European Parliament returns after the EU elections, would see British MEPs required to take their seats.
Legal advice commissioned by the EU says that the “2019 elections would not be affected by a potential failure by the UK to organise elections”.
The European Council instead could “adopt a decision containing a scenario for the composition of parliament without the seats envisaged for the UK if the latter had not formally withdrawn from the Union at that time”.
At a meeting of EU27 diplomats on Wednesday afternoon, Martin Selmayr, the EU Commission’s secretary-general, told member states to continue stepping up their no-deal preparations.
EU countries were also warned that there would be no need for a special Brexit summit until London’s next move and urged them to remain on message about any offers from Brussels to break the impasse.
Published at Wed, 16 Jan 2019 17:23:00 +0000