UK, European officials discussing possible Brexit delay: report

The future of Brexit remains deeply uncertain as British lawmakers are expected next week to vote down the divorce deal that Prime Minister Theresa May struck with the EU in November. (AFP)
Updated 08 January 2019
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UK, European officials discussing possible Brexit delay: report

  • Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly ruled out delaying Brexit
  • The Telegraph cited three unidentified EU sources as saying British officials had been ‘putting out feelers’ and ‘testing the waters’ on an extension of Article 50

LONDON: British and European officials are discussing the possibility of extending the formal exit process from the European Union amid fears a Brexit deal will not be approved by March 29, The Daily Telegraph reported, citing unidentified sources.
The Telegraph cited three unidentified EU sources as saying British officials had been “putting out feelers” and “testing the waters” on an extension of Article 50, a part of the Lisbon Treaty which sets out the conditions for leaving the EU.
Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly ruled out delaying Brexit, though she has also warned lawmakers that if they reject her deal then Brexit could be derailed or that the United Kingdom could leave without a deal.
“We are leaving the European Union on the 29th of March,” British Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said when asked about the Telegraph report. “We are not looking to extend.”
When asked directly if he denied the report, Barclay said: “Yes, because I can be very clear that the government’s policy is to leave on March 29.”
He added that extending the Article 50 exit process was not a unilateral decision for the United Kingdom. Extending would require the unanimous agreement of EU heads of state in the European Council.
EU leaders and officials have said over recent weeks that they would be open to extending the Brexit process if Britain asked – though have made clear that, so far, May has stuck to her position that she will seek no delay.
EU officials have been working through the legalities and issues involved in all scenarios, said one senior official close to the Brexit talks, while stressing that there was no indication from leaders that an extension was a preferred option.
Some officials have insisted that any delay could only be of a few weeks and only if there were a clear indication that a deal was about to be concluded.
The future of Brexit remains deeply uncertain as British lawmakers are expected next week to vote down the divorce deal that May struck with the EU in November.
Business chiefs and investors fear leaving the EU without an approved deal would silt up the arteries of trade, spook financial markets and dislocate supply chains for the world’s fifth-largest economy.
Besides leaving without a deal or on the terms of May’s deal, other options include delaying Brexit, calling a parliamentary election or holding another referendum on EU membership.
The ultimate Brexit outcome will shape Britain’s $2.8 trillion economy, have far-reaching consequences for the unity of the United Kingdom and determine whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial centers.
May last month pulled a parliamentary vote on her deal, struck after two years of negotiations and designed to maintain close future ties with the bloc, after admitting it would be heavily defeated.
A new parliamentary vote is due on Jan. 15, though it is unclear what May’s next steps would be if the deal is defeated.
Goldman Sachs said its base case was that May’s deal would be defeated at first but a close variant of the deal would eventually be approved by parliament.
May is seeking assurances from the EU on the most controversial part of her deal — an insurance policy to prevent a hard border between EU-member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said the EU is willing to give Britain reassurances about the Irish backstop before British lawmakers vote on May’s Brexit deal next week.
“We don’t want to trap the UK into anything – we want to get on to the talks about the future relationship right away,” Varadkar said, the Irish Times reported. “I think it’s those kinds of assurances we are happy to give.”
However, Britain’s former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who opposes May’s deal, said assurances such as proposed by Varadkar would not be enough to convince rebels to support the deal.


3 ministers may break with British PM over Brexit

Updated 6 min 22 sec ago
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3 ministers may break with British PM over Brexit

  • The ministers have said they will side with opposition parties to stop Britain leaving without a divorce deal
  • Comments seen as a warning to hard-line Brexit faction in Conservative Party

LONDON: Three senior British Cabinet ministers suggested on Saturday they may break with Prime Minister Theresa May and back amendments to delay Brexit unless a deal is agreed to in the next week.

Their comments represent a serious Cabinet split ahead of a key week in Parliament and are seen as a warning to the hard-line Brexit faction in the Conservative Party.

The ministers indicated in a Daily Mail article published on Saturday that they will back plans to delay Brexit if lawmakers vote down May’s plan for a new deal with the EU.

Business Minister Greg Clark, Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd, and Justice Minister David Gauke signalled in the newspaper column that they will side with rebels and opposition parties next week to stop Britain leaving without a divorce deal on March 29 if necessary, adding their weight to calls for May to rule out a no-deal departure.

May is struggling against the clock to get a deal with Brussels on Britain’s exit from the world’s largest trading bloc that will pass parliamentary muster. 

She planned to meet Donald Tusk on the sidelines of an EU-League of Arab States summit on Sunday, but EU diplomats are not expecting any imminent breakthrough.

In the column headlined “If we don’t get a deal next week we must delay Brexit,” Clark, Rudd and Gauke wrote that a no-deal exit was a risk to business, security and British territorial unity, and accused some Parliament colleagues of complacency.

“Far from Brexit resulting in a newly independent United Kingdom stepping boldly into the wider world, crashing out on March 29 would see us poorer, less secure and potentially splitting up,” they said, referring to the threat of a new bid for Scottish independence.

“Our economy will be damaged severely both in the short and the long term. Costs will increase, businesses that rely on just-in-time supply chains will be severely disrupted and investment will be discouraged,” they wrote.

The ministers called on members of the European Research Group, formed by Conservative pro-Brexit lawmakers, to back the government’s deal in Parliament or risk seeing Brexit delayed.

Both May’s Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party are formally committed to delivering Brexit. In recent days Labour has appeared to soften its stance on a second referendum, although May has ruled such an option out.

Lawmakers from both parties, however, are deeply split over how or even whether Britain will leave, and no majority has so far emerged in Parliament for any comprehensive Brexit strategy.

May has promised that if she does not bring a revised deal back by Feb. 27, Parliament will have an opportunity to vote on the next steps. Some lawmakers are expected to use that to try to wrest control of the process from the government.