The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, on Tuesday recommended that EU leaders postpone Britain’s departure from the bloc while its prime minister seeks approval of their divorce deal.
EU ambassadors are to meet in Brussels on Wednesday after the British House of Commons rejected Boris Johnson’s bid to set a tight three-day schedule to approve a Brexit bill this week.
This effectively destroyed London and Brussels’ hopes that a treaty for an orderly withdrawal will be ratified before October 31, Johnson’s preferred departure date — implying an extension.
France said it was open to a “technical” Brexit extension of “several days” but ruled out reopening discussions to renegotiate the deal.
Tusk said the member state leaders could agree in writing rather than holding a summit. EU ambassadors will meet on Wednesday, but a European source said an immediate decision was not expected.
Tusk said that after Johnson’s “decision to pause the process of ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, and in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit, I will recommend the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension.”
On Saturday, British MPs forced a reluctant Johnson to request a three-month delay until January 31 next year, and a European official confirmed that Tusk was recommending accepting this date.
But other European sources said member states might argue for a short extension after consulting with Johnson’s government to decide on the best way to help him get his withdrawal bill through.
In France, European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said Paris was open to a short technical extension.
“At the end of the week, we will see if a purely technical extension of several days is justified in order for the British parliament to finish its parliamentary procedure,” she told the French Senate.
“Beyond such a perspective, an extension aimed at gaining time to rediscuss the deal is excluded,” she said.
– ‘Political turbulence’ –
“It’s difficult to see how we get through this without a delay,” a European official told AFP.
Another European source said: “The question is the length of the extension. If it’s too short we’ll just have to come back and do it again, so that’s useless.
“Too long, and that’s going to lead to political turbulence in the United Kingdom,” he warned.
Before losing the vote on a short timetable for the withdrawal act, Johnson did win broad preliminary approval for the deal, and European leaders seized on this as sign of hope.
“It’s welcome that the House of Commons voted by a clear majority in favour of legislation needed to enact Withdrawal Agreement,” Ireland’s Leo Varadkar said.
“We will now await further developments from London and Brussels about next steps including timetable for the legislation and the need for an extension.”
Before the votes, Johnson had repeatedly said that he will take Britain out of the European Union on October 31, with or without a withdrawal agreement.
He reached such a deal with EU leaders last week, but on Saturday he was forced by parliament to send Tusk a letter requesting that Britain’s withdrawal be postponed for three months.
Such an extension would have to be unanimously approved by the other 27 EU national leaders.