EU backs Brexit delay as Johnson eyes election
BRUSSELS (AFP) — European Union members backed a plan to postpone Brexit on Wednesday but have yet to agree on how much longer to give London to resolve its political crisis.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is struggling to persuade British MPs to quickly ratify the divorce accord he struck with EU leaders last week, and is pushing for a snap election.
Johnson spoke to European Council president Donald Tusk on Wednesday and, according to a European source, he told him he does not want to delay Brexit beyond Oct. 31.
But Tusk nevertheless recommended to EU ambassadors they approve a prior British request for a delay until Jan. 31, which a reluctant Johnson was compelled to send last week under a law passed by rebel MPs.
The ambassadors met Wednesday and several official and diplomatic sources told AFP they agreed on the principle of an extension — but not on its length — with France publicly in favor a shorter delay.
“All agreed on the need for an extension to avoid a no-deal Brexit. The duration of an extension is still being discussed,” a European source told reporters.
Some reports suggested France had wanted to limit the delay to just two weeks, in order to help Johnson pressure the House of Commons to quickly approve the withdrawal arrangement.
But three sources told AFP that no alternative date was proposed in the meeting itself. Germany and
Ireland backed the “flexible” January 31 deadline, which could be cut short is a deal is ratified beforehand.
“The mood in the room points to a longer extension,” one European diplomat said.
Another added: “The delegations insisted on the fact that they could not decide today and that they need more clarity on what is going on in the United Kingdom.” If the member states can not agree, then an emergency EU summit could be called for Monday, but the EU official said the members had a “strong preference” for making a written decision this week.
The ambassadors plan meet again on Friday.
“In the meantime, President Tusk’s consultations will continue,” a European official said.