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

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.


Afghan head of peace talks says ready for dialogue with Taliban

Updated 6 min 21 sec ago

Afghan head of peace talks says ready for dialogue with Taliban

  • Abdullah Abdullah: ongoing lull in violence set the tone for launching the peace talks
  • Taliban offered a rare three-day cease-fire that ended on Tuesday night to mark the Eid Al-Fitr
KABUL: A top Afghan official appointed to lead the much-awaited peace talks with the Taliban said Saturday his team was ready to start “at any moment” with the insurgents.
Abdullah Abdullah, who heads a council to represent the government in negotiations, said an ongoing lull in violence triggered by a surprise cease-fire offered by the insurgents had set the tone for launching the peace talks.
“The announcement of the cease-fire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners have all paved the way for a good beginning,” Abdullah said at his first press conference since taking on the role.
“The negotiating team is ready to begin the talks at any moment,” he said.
However, he added that there must be a fresh cease-fire during the talks.
The Taliban offered a rare three-day cease-fire that ended on Tuesday night to mark the Eid Al-Fitr festival.
Officials have blamed the Taliban for carrying out some deadly attacks against security forces since the cease-fire ended, but also acknowledged that the temporary truce has led to an overall fall in violence across much of the country.
The government responded to the cease-fire by accelerating the release of hundreds of Taliban prisoners.
The peace talks between the government and Taliban were scheduled to begin before March 10.
The United States has pushed the two sides to begin negotiating with an aim to end the nearly two-decades old war in the impoverished country.
Washington has signed a separate deal with the Taliban, which stipulates that all foreign forces will be withdrawn from the country by May next year.
Abdullah was appointed to lead the peace talks after he ended his bitter political feud with President Ashraf Ghani earlier this month.
Abdullah had announced himself as a rival president after he rejected the result of the September election which was won by incumbent Ghani.