EU ‘ready to scrap deadline for Brexit’
Gordon Rayner, Harry Yorke
THE EU is preparing to extend Article 50 to avoid a no-deal Brexit, it was claimed last night, as Eurosceptic MPS said Brussels was starting to crack under pressure from Boris Johnson.
Gordon Brown used a speech in Scotland to claim that Emmanuel Macron, the French president, was ready to “withdraw” the October 31 deadline and extend negotiations. The former prime minister made clear the offer could have been made as early as last night.
Ahead of a week in which Parliament will become the battleground for the biggest fight yet over Brexit, Mr Johnson warned of “lasting damage” if Brexit was delayed any further.
The Prime Minister told opponents of no deal that “the more our friends and partners think at the back of their minds that Brexit could be stopped, that the UK could be kept in [the EU] by Parliament, the less likely they are to give us the deal that we need”.
Last night, the European Commission said another extension was “obviously a possibility” in a softening of its position ahead of intensive negotiations next week.
Mr Brown suggested that by offering an extension, the EU would undermine Mr Johnson’s argument that Brexit has to happen in two months, deal or no deal, but Brexiteers cited the news as evidence of Brussels starting to panic.
It came as Sir John Major, the former prime minister, announced he would go to court next week to try to stop Mr Johnson proroguing Parliament. Sir John will give evidence in one of two court cases scheduled for next week aimed at preventing Mr Johnson from suspending Parliament for five weeks.
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson and Eurosceptic MPS will face off in the Commons against a cross-party coalition of Remain-backing MPS determined, with the help of the Speaker, to pass a law forcing the Prime Minister to extend Article 50.
Last night a Daily Mail poll suggested the Tory lead over Labour has nearly doubled in the past three weeks, with the parties on 31 and 24 per cent respectively.
Mr Brown said yesterday he had been in contact with EU leaders in recent days and had been told Brussels
was preparing to offer Britain an extension to the Hallowe’en deadline. He said that Mr Macron, the man who refused to grant Theresa May more than a sixmonth delay when it was agreed in April, was now happy to grant a further extension.
Mr Brown said the EU’S offer would “remove the excuse” for a no-deal Brexit by making clear the 27 other EU members were happy to keep talking, but Eurosceptic MPS read it differently.
David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, said: “I think it would indicate that yet again, as we thought they would, they are blinking.
“From the beginning I’ve said it won’t be the three years that matter but the last three weeks. It will be in that period that they begin to make concessions.”
He said there was now a “far more constructive approach” from Mr Macron and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, than Britain saw “when we just gave in to them” under Mrs May.
Mr Johnson told Sky News that failing to leave on October 31 would do “lasting damage to people’s trust in politics”. He added: “We told the people we would get it done. We have a way to get it done. We’re in the last stages now of negotiating with our friends about a way to get it done. If we can’t succeed in that negotiation, we must come out anyway.”
Mr Brown said: “I have actually been talking to some European leaders this week. I believe that next week the EU will withdraw the October 31 deadline …
“My information is that Macron no longer holds to that deadline ... And none of the other European commissioners, including the new president of the European Commission, I believe will hold to that deadline.”
A European Commission spokesman yesterday said: “Another extension is obviously a possibility and depending on the purpose the EU could be forthcoming.”
Before becoming European Commission presidentelect, Ursula von der Leyen said she would “support a further extension if good
‘I believe that next week the EU will withdraw the October 31 deadline’
reasons are provided”.
Sir Oliver Letwin, the Remain-supporting Tory MP spearheading attempts to block prorogation and no deal, admitted yesterday that he had been talking to John Bercow, the Speaker, “for many months” about how to thwart both options.
He is being helped by Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, who confirmed he had talked to Philip Hammond, the former chancellor, to cement the cross-party plot to prevent no deal by passing a law requiring Mr Johnson to seek a further Article 50 extension. Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem leader, and Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, have also been involved.