EU leaders seek clarity from UK before possible Brexit delay

EU leaders on Friday were seeking answers from Britain before they consider delaying the UK’s scheduled exit date from the European Union.

Legally, Britain will exit from the bloc on March 29 unless EU leaders unanimously grant Britain an extension — an issue that is likely to dominate an EU summit in Brussels next week.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal has remained deadlocked in Parliament, mostly due to disagreement over the so-called Irish “backstop,” a measure to avoid barriers at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.

Read more: Brexit: Is the EU willing to grant an Article 50 extension?

UK lawmakers overwhelmingly backed a government motion on Thursday to ask for a three-month delay to Britain’s departure from the EU.

The length of any possible delay depends on the outcome of another parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal struck by May with EU leaders. May’s divorce deal has already been overwhelmingly rejected twice by MPs.

The British government has said it would ask for a “technical” delay until June 30 to pass necessary legislation if MPs finally approve the deal next week.

If MPs vote against it for a third time, the government has warned it will have to seek a much longer extension.

‘Next steps … must come from Britain’

“It is very clear that the next steps, the next proposal on how to move forward must come from Britain,” Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said in Berlin on Friday.

The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said if the current deal was rejected again, “a clear and new alternative plan” must be presented or else Britain would have to leave the EU with no agreement.

Read more: Brexit: Is the end nigh?

Speaking during a visit to Paris, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said “everyone would welcome” MPs approving the deal and Brexit being briefly pushed back to get the necessary legislation through.

But on the possibility of a longer delay, Coveney said: “I think many EU leaders will be very uncomfortable with a long extension.”

For the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up May’s government, the Irish backstop remains the key issue in the Brexit negotiations.

Read more: Brexit: Why is the Irish backstop so controversial?

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said Friday there had been good talks with senior British ministers, including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, and said progress had been made. However, he said that progress was insufficient and much would depend on what guarantees the government could offer.

Delay a chance to rework EU’s approach to Brexit

Senior German conservative lawmaker Detlef Seif, an ally of Merkel, said delaying Britain’s exit from the EU could present an opportunity to rework the bloc’s approach to negotiating with London.

German conservatives would prefer Britain to stay in the EU or else adopt May’s Brexit agreement, but Seif said that if neither of those scenarios came to fruition he would back a delay until late 2020.

In the event of such a delay, Seif told news agency Reuters: “I am of the view that we should change the EU’s guidelines.”

  • British Prime Minister David Cameron hugs his wife, Samantha, and family in front of 10 Downing Street.

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    June 2016: ‘The will of the British people’

    After a shrill referendum campaign, nearly 52 percent of British voters opted to leave the EU on June 24. Polls had shown a close race before the vote with a slight lead for those favoring remaining in the EU. Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for Britain to stay, acknowledged the “will of the British people” and resigned the following morning.

  • Theresa May visits the British Queen in Buckingham Palace to become prime minister.

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    July 2016: ‘Brexit means Brexit’

    Former Home Secretary Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister on July 11 and promised the country that “Brexit means Brexit.” May had quietly supported the Remain campaign before the referendum. She did not initially say when her government would trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty to start the two-year talks leading to Britain’s formal exit.

  • British ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, hands over letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk on Britain triggering Article 50 to leave the EU.

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    March 2017: ‘We already miss you’

    May eventually signed a diplomatic letter over six months later on March 29, 2017 to trigger Article 50. Hours later, Britain’s ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, handed the note to European Council President Donald Tusk. Britain’s exit was officially set for March 29, 2019. Tusk ended his brief statement on the decision with: “We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.”

  • British Brexit Secretary David Davis meets EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, in Brussels for the first round of Brexit negotiations.

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    June 2017: And they’re off!

    British Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, kicked off talks in Brussels on June 19. The first round ended with Britain reluctantly agreeing to follow the EU’s timeline for the rest of the negotiations. The timeline split talks into two phases. The first would settle the terms of Britain’s exit, and the second the terms of the EU-UK relationship post-Brexit.

  • EU and British negotiating teams meet in Brussels for round 2 of Brexit negotiations.

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    July-October 2017: Money, rights and Ireland

    The second round of talks in mid-July began with an unflattering photo of a seemingly unprepared British team. It and subsequent rounds ended with little progress on three phase one issues: How much Britain still needed to pay into the EU budget after it leaves, the post-Brexit rights of EU and British citizens and whether Britain could keep an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

  • Stock photo of euros in a hand (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Hoppe)

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    November 2017: May pays out?

    Progress appeared to have been made after round six in early November with Britain reportedly agreeing to pay up to £50 billion (€57 billion/$68 billion) for the “divorce bill.” May had earlier said she was only willing to pay €20 billion, while the EU had calculated some €60 billion euros. Reports of Britain’s concession sparked outrage among pro-Brexit politicians and media outlets.

  • EU leaders' summit Brussels | Donald Tusk (picture-alliance/AP Photo/dpa/O. Matthys)

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    December 2017: Go-ahead for phase 2

    Leaders of the remaining 27 EU members formally agreed that “sufficient progress” had been made to move on to phase two issues: the post-Brexit transition period and the future UK-EU trading relationship. While Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her delight at the decision, European Council President Tusk ominously warned that the second stage of talks would be “dramatically difficult.”

  • Boris Johnson and David Davis (picture-alliance/empics/G. Fuller)

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    July 2018: Johnson, Davis resign

    British ministers appeared to back a Brexit plan at May’s Chequers residence on July 6. The proposal would have kept Britain in a “combined customs territory” with the EU and signed up to a “common rulebook” on all goods. That went too far for British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis, who resigned a few days later. May replaced them with Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab.

  • UK Theresa May (Reuters/P. Nicholls)

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    September 2018: No cherries for Britain

    May’s Chequers proposal did not go down well with EU leaders, who told her at a summit in Salzburg in late September that it was unacceptable. EU Council President Tusk trolled May on Instagram, captioning a picture of himself and May looking at cakes with the line: “A piece of cake perhaps? Sorry, no cherries.” The gag echoed previous EU accusations of British cherry-picking.

  • Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker shake hands in Brussels (Getty Images/AFP/E. Dunand)

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    November 2018: Breakthrough in Brussels

    EU leaders endorsed a 585-page draft divorce deal and political declaration on post-Brexit ties in late November. The draft had been widely condemned by pro- and anti-Brexit lawmakers in the British Parliament only weeks earlier. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned along with several other ministers, and dozens of Conservative Party members tried to trigger a no-confidence vote in May.

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets British Prime Minister Theresa May upon May's arrival for talks at the Chancellery on December 11, 2018 in Berlin, Germany (Getty Images/S. Gallup)

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    December 2018: May survives rebellion

    In the face of unrelenting opposition, May postponed a parliamentary vote on the deal on December 10. The next day, she met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to seek reassurances that would, she hoped, be enough to convince skeptical lawmakers to back the deal. But while she was away, hard-line Conservative lawmakers triggered a no-confidence vote. May won the vote a day later.

  • Prime Minister Theresa May addresses Parliament

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    January 2019: Agreement voted down

    The UK Parliament voted 432 to 202 against May’s Brexit deal on January 16. In response to the result, European Council President Donald Tusk suggested the only solution was for the UK to stay in the EU. Meanwhile, Britain’s Labour Party called for a no-confidence vote in the prime minister, her second leadership challenge in as many months.

  • Theresa May in London on March 12 (picture alliance/AP Photo/T. Ireland)

    Brexit timeline: Charting Britain’s turbulent exodus from Europe

    March 2019: Second defeat for May’s deal

    May tried to get legal changes to the deal’s so-called Irish backstop in the weeks that followed. She eventually got assurances that the UK could suspend the backstop under certain circumstances. But on March 12, Parliament voted against the revised Brexit deal by 391 to 242. EU leaders warned the vote increased the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. Two days later, MPs voted to delay Brexit.

    Author: Alexander Pearson

law/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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