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EU members back Brexitdelay, no decision on length

By AFP
October 24, 2019

BRUSSELS: EU members agreed in principle on Wednesday to postpone the date of Brexit beyond the end of this month but did not set a new date, a European source said. “The meeting was not meant to take any formal decisions and it didn´t,” the official said, after ambassadors from the 27 non-British member states met in Brussels.

“All agreed on the need for an extension to avoid a no-deal Brexit. The duration of an extension is still being discussed,” he added. The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has recommended EU leaders approve postponing the day of Britain´s departure from the bloc from October 31 until January 31 next year. But some capitals, principally Paris, would prefer a much shorter extension in order to help Prime Minister Boris Johnson quickly push a withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons. If the member states can not agree, then an emergency EU summit could be called for Monday, but the EU source 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,” the official said.

Earlier, European Council President Donald Tusk had recommended that EU´s 27 other member states grant a flexible extension until January 31, 2020 — to be cut short if Britain ratifies the deal before then. But the decision on how long a prolongation will last will fall to member state leaders, many of whom would prefer a shorter delay to keep the pressure on Westminster to approve the deal quickly. Ireland´s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, told Tusk in a call that he supports the January 31 date, but German and, especially, French officials are talking in terms of a much shorter timeline. “If it´s a question of pushing back the date by two or three weeks, to give MPs in London a chance to ratify, then it´s not really a problem,” German foreign minister Heiko Maas told RTL television. “If it´s a question of pushing Brexit back until the end of January, we´d need to know why. What´s going to happen in the interval and will there be elections in Great Britain?”

France´s minister for European affairs, Amelie de Montchalin, said: “At the end of the week we´ll see whether a purely technical extension of a few days is justified, to allow the British parliament to finish its procedure. Ambassadors from EU member states were to meet later Wednesday in Brussels to begin the decision-making procedure, but no immediate response was expected.