Saturday 21 September 2019

EU offers May Brexit delay to Hallowe’en

But EU leaders demand Britain can't interfere with bloc's agenda

European leaders attend a round table meeting in Brussels. Photo: PA
European leaders attend a round table meeting in Brussels. Photo: PA

John Downing in Brussels

The UK is heading for a Hallowe'en Brexit after leaders of the remaining 27 EU countries offered to delay the deadline for withdrawal to October 31.

The date was a compromise solution thrashed out in five hours of talks in Brussels in the absence of British Prime Minister Theresa May, after French President Emmanuel Macron held out against a longer extension lasting into 2020.

It is proposed that a review of the situation will take place in June.

Ms May's agreement is required for any change to the Brexit date to be finalised.

Most of the leaders at the Brussels summit are understood to have favoured the longer extension of as much as a year recommended by European Council President Donald Tusk.

But Mr Macron dug his heels in for a shorter delay, warning that a no-deal Brexit would be less damaging than a disruptive UK remaining in the EU for month after month.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat welcomed the compromise date, saying: "A Brexit extension until October 31 is sensible since it gives time to the UK to finally choose its way.

"The review in June will allow the European Council to take stock of the situation."

Still hopeful: British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS
Still hopeful: British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

It is understood the June review will assess UK co-operation during and after the European elections in May, with the possibility of the exit date being brought forward to Mrs May's preferred date of June 30.

She gave a one-hour presentation setting out her case for an extension to June 30, with a break clause allowing the UK to leave as soon as her Withdrawal Agreement was ratified.

But she had to leave the EU27 to discuss the UK's future in her absence over a dinner of scallop soup and loin of cod.

It took five hours of wrangling before she was summoned back from the residence of UK ambassador Sir Tim Barrow for her agreement to be sought.

Failure to reach unanimous agreement would mean the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal at 11pm tomorrow.

Mr Tusk tweeted: "EU27 has agreed an extension of Article 50. I will now meet PM Theresa May for the UK government's agreement."

But amid increasing frustration with the UK, the EU27 leaders are also demanding strong guarantees Britain will not disrupt the EU agenda while awaiting its exit from the trading bloc after 45 years of membership.

Even those countries which were more sympathetic to Mrs May stressed the need to ensure the EU institutions and their proper functioning were protected from any possible negative influence by the UK.

"We have to ask what is in the interest of a good co-operation and what is in our interest," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on her way into the summit. "For us, it's important to have an orderly exit - and preserve the bloc's unity."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar again supported Mrs May and he signalled there was "merit" in a longer Brexit extension, provided it was not too open-ended.

"I want to end the uncertainty which is creating huge problems for citizens, for business, for farmers," he said.

He also questioned the motives of US President Donald Trump, saying he would prefer to undermine the EU.

"I think Europe would be better with the UK staying as a member and it would be better for the UK too," Mr Varadkar said. But he stressed these were matters for the UK.

Mrs May has already had to concede to EU demands to hold European Parliament elections on May 23 next.

Irish Independent

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