EU likely to shelve Brexit delay as Britain squabbles over election

Reuters
Brussels, Belgium Updated: Oct 25, 2019, 04:34 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

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A senior EU official said the 27 may agree in principle to a delay but set no new date until after parliament's vote on Monday on whether to have a snap election. 

The European Union looked set on Friday to delay a decision on Britain's request for a Brexit extension to give time for Britain's parliament to decide on Prime Minister Boris Johnson's call for an election.

"I'd be surprised if we land today," said an EU official before ambassadors to the 27 other EU member states went into a meeting to discuss postponing Britain's departure from the bloc, less than a week before the current deadline of October 31.

Separately, a senior EU official said the 27 may agree in principle to a delay but set no new date until after parliament's vote on Monday on whether to have a snap election on December 12.

Johnson admitted on Thursday that he would not meet his "do or die" deadline of October 31 and demanded a pre-Christmas poll to end what he cast as the "nightmare" of the Brexit crisis.

EU envoys to Brussels were due to discuss the length of a third delay to Brexit on Friday, though officials said they would be reluctant to set a date because it could dictate the direction of political events in London.

According to a draft decision by the 27, which was seen by Reuters on Thursday evening, a delay would be granted "with the view to allowing for the finalisation of the ratification" of the divorce agreement sealed with Johnson last week.

The draft text left the new Brexit date blank, but said the split could take place earlier if ratification was completed earlier - an idea known as "flextension", an amalgamation of the words "flexible" and "extension".

An EU official explained: "It's basically between a three-month flextension or a two-tier one."

Under the first idea, Britain would leave on Jan. 31, three months after the current departure date, but earlier if it and the EU raify an agreement before that. The second one would include a second specific date when Britain could leave.

Johnson won the leadership of the ruling Conservative Party to become prime minister in a minority government by staking his career on getting Brexit done by October 31, but after parliament rejected his proposed legislative timetable on Tuesday he will fail to do that.

Brexit was initially supposed to have taken place on March 29 but Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, was forced to delay twice as parliament defeated her Brexit deal by margins of between 58 and 230 votes earlier this year. Her failure cost May her job.

Johnson said in a letter to opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday he would give parliament more time to approve his Brexit deal by Nov. 6 but lawmakers must on Monday back a December election, Johnson's third attempt to try to force a snap vote.

"Prolonging this paralysis into 2020 would have dangerous consequences," he said. "If I win a majority in this election, we will then ratify the great new deal that I have negotiated, get Brexit done in January and the country will move on."

Corbyn said he would wait to see what the EU decides on a Brexit delay before deciding which way to vote on Monday, repeating that he could only back an election when the risk of Johnson taking Britain out of the EU without a deal to smooth the transition was off the table.

It is not clear how Corbyn would respond if the EU makes no decision on a date on Friday.

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