EU considers Brexit extension as Boris Johnson pushes for a vote on his deal
BRUSSELS — The leaders of the other 27 EU nations are expected to take their time deciding whether to prolong the current Brexit deadline, as U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson fights to put his new deal to a vote in Westminster.
Late Saturday, Johnson reluctantly asked the EU for more time to take the U.K. out of the EU, marking the third time the government has requested an extension.
Pierre Vimont, a former French ambassador to the EU told CNBC via email Sunday that the other nations are “tired” of what he called this endless “political mess.”
The U.K. asked for a first extension in late March ahead of its first scheduled departure date of March 29. This led to a short-term move to April 12 to allow the U.K. Parliament to vote on former leader Theresa May’s exit agreement. This wasn’t enough, and it asked for a second delay to June 30. This second request split opinion in Brussels, with some members favoring a longer delay — until early 2020 — and other governments pushing for a shorter extension. The compromise was a six-month delay to October 31.
“The EU does not want, and does not want to be blamed, for a no-deal (Brexit),” one EU official, who is aware of the EU’s position but did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic, told CNBC Sunday evening. They added that Brussels would not “rush to extend.”
The EU has long feared a no-deal scenario and the potential hit to the economy that it could cause. Thus, it’s unlikely that Brussels would outright reject an extension if we edged precariously close the Oct. 31. It does technically have until midnight of that day to approve a third delay.
Ambassadors from the other 27 countries gathered in Brussels Sunday. However, they did not discuss the request for a delay and also didn’t discuss whether there needed to be an emergency EU summit in the coming days.
A second Brussels-based official, who also did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic, told CNBC that “not a single ambassador intervened on the substance of the request or intervened on the desirability or length of the extension.”
According to the U.K.’s Sunday Times newspaper, which cited diplomatic sources, the EU is likely to accept the length requested by Johnson — until the end of January 2020 — if it does agree to prolonging the date.
Vimont explained to CNBC that it will largely depend on where the U.K. stands with regard to the next stages of its parliamentary process. “If there is a good reason for extension: On technical grounds in order to get the relevant legislation through or a second referendum/general elections to let the voters finally decide on exiting or staying, I guess the EU 27 will agree to a last extension,” he said.
The U.K. government is keen to have its “meaningful vote” on Monday after it was delayed in a separate vote at the weekend. However, this could be rejected by the house speaker as it’s not parliamentary convention to repeatedly ask the same questions to politicians.
The government could present the full Withdrawal Agreement Bill early this week too and slowly try to pass it through both chambers — the House of Commons and the House of Lords. This will involve days of debate, many attempts to amend the bill and a selection of different votes as the week progresses.
A crunch, decisive question to lawmakers would then come later in the week.