Monday 11 November 2019

Disastrous UK crash-out off as Johnson given a 'flextension'

British prime minister grudgingly accepts Brexit delay despite his 'dead in ditch' vow

Progress?: Boris Johnson said his government was accepting the extension against its will. Photo: Pete Summers/Getty Images
Progress?: Boris Johnson said his government was accepting the extension against its will. Photo: Pete Summers/Getty Images
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The prospect of a catastrophic crash-out Brexit taking place within days has been avoided after the EU granted a 'flextension' to the UK and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson grudgingly accepted.

Mr Johnson had said he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than agree to a Brexit delay beyond this Thursday, October 31.

Last night, however, he was forced to write to European Council President Donald Tusk accepting an extension of up to three months. He insisted his government was doing so "against its will".

As the House of Commons continues to debate holding an early election, voices in Dublin, Berlin and Brussels urged the UK to use the extra time well.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's spokesman said the EU's decision to grant the extension "averts the risk of a disruptive no-deal".

He said: "We hope the extra time will be used to ensure that the Withdrawal Agreement agreed between UK and EU27 is ratified, enabling an orderly Brexit."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government also welcomed the extension, a spokesman saying: "The ball now lies with Great Britain. And it's important to use the additional time productively."

The European Parliament's Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, posted a Twitter jibe aimed at Mr Johnson saying he is "relieved that finally no one died in a ditch".

Talks: EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier arrives at the European Commission to discuss the Brexit extension. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman
Talks: EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier arrives at the European Commission to discuss the Brexit extension. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman

He added that the uncertainty on Brexit has "gone on far too long" and "this extra time must deliver a way forward".

Mr Tusk announced the granting of the additional time on social media saying the remaining 27 EU member states had agreed it would accept the UK's request for a "flextension". Under the agreement, the UK can leave the EU before January 31 if the Brexit deal is ratified in Westminster and the European Parliament.

The other potential departure dates are December 1 or January 1.

Mr Johnson was forced to ask for a delay to avoid a no-deal Brexit due to legislation passed by opponents in Westminster.

In his letter to Mr Tusk, the British prime minister said that under the law he has "no discretion to do anything other than confirm the UK's formal agreement to this extension".

He said the delay was "unwanted" and "imposed on this government against its will." Mr Johnson said it is his view that "this unwanted prolongation of the UK's membership of the EU is damaging to our democracy and to the relationship between us and our European friends".

He urged the EU "to make clear that a further extension after 31 January is not possible".

Mr Johnson has been pushing for an early election in the hope that winning a Conservative majority would allow him to pass the Brexit departure deal he made with EU earlier this month.

Last night his government failed to get the two-thirds majority required in Westminster to hold an early election in a proposal to hold the vote on December 12. The debate continues today.

At home, Fianna Fáil's Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said the extension provides some "welcomed short-term relief" which "averts the threat of a no-deal temporarily".

She said she hopes it will provide time for the UK to ratify the deal but cautioned that "it's difficult to predict what might happen".

Ms Chambers said that even if there is a general election in Britain "we don't know what that will throw up".

She pointed out that Mr Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, was ahead in the polls when she called a snap election in 2017 and subsequently lost her majority.

Elsewhere, the French government issued a reminder that it is not too late for the UK to cancel Brexit.

French President Emmanuel Macron was reluctant to extend the Brexit deadline.

His European affairs minister, Amelie de Montchalin, said the prospect of a new election in Britain justified the new delay.

She also said: "The prime minister can pick up his phone and call Brussels to say: 'I stop everything'."

Irish Independent

Also in Business