dw: Many British lawmakers appear ready to ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit process instead of exiting without a deal on March 29. But would the EU agree to delay the divorce?

If British lawmakers vote, as expected, against a no-deal Brexit on Wednesday, an extension of the Article 50 procedure, the official name of the process the UK follows to leave the European Union, will become much more likely.

But, largely fed up with the lack of a common opinion coming from London, politicians in the EU have by no means guaranteed they will agree to prolong Brexit discussions.

Here are the options EU leaders will have to consider:

Justify the request, with some strings attached

Leaders of the EU and its member states have mostly said they are open to the idea of an extension, but only if Britain can justify its request to postpone the Brexit date, barely two weeks away. An extension requires unanimous approval from the 27 remaining EU members.

European Council President Donald Tusk said Britain would have to provide a “credible justification” for any request for a delay.

This line of “credible justification” has been repeated almost verbatim by several European leaders. Romanian European Affairs Minister Melania-Gabriela Ciot, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, voiced this “credible justification” for an extension for Brexit talks.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte wrote on Twitter: “Should the UK hand in a reasoned request for an extension, I expect a credible and convincing justification.”

However, the EU has not yet fully outlined what this would entail. Michael Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said Brussels would need to hear a clear line of reasoning to consider postponement.

“Why would we prolong the negotiation? To do what? Because the Article 50 negotiation is finished, we have a treaty, it’s there,” he said, referring to the deal that took the EU and UK more than two years to negotiate, and was twice rejected by British lawmakers.

How long can they extend?

If the EU member states are convinced by a request to postpone the Brexit process, the question remains of how long this would be.

For most of the bloc, elections for the European Parliament represent the last possible exit point for Britain. The elections take place between May 23 and May 26 2019 and some of the UK’s 73 seats are set to be redistributed, including 5 for France and 5 for Spain. The UK would not field any candidates, assuming it had left in March. The current parliament ends on July 1 and the new parliament holds its inaugural session the next day.

However, Michael Roth, Germany’s deputy minister for Europe, proposed the date of July 1 as the absolute limit for Britain leaving the EU without participating in the elections, as those elected in May would take their posts on July 2.

Why are the elections the hard limit?

If Britain remains in the EU after the election date, or at latest July 1 as Roth proposes, they would legally have to take part in the elections. Member states cannot excuse themselves from the election process.

But member states chafe at the idea of allowing Britain a final chance to influence the institution it said it wants to leave.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit official, said if Britain participates in the elections, they “will be hijacked by the Brexiteers and the whole Brexit issue.”

“The only thing we will do is give a new mandate to Mr. (Nigel) Farage,” Verhofstadt said.

For his part, most famous Brexiteer insists he will be glad to see the back of the EU and his generous parliamentary benefits. The founder of the far-right, anti-EU UKIP party has been an MEP since 1999.

Manfred Weber, who will likely succeed Jean-Claude Juncker, has ruled out the idea.

“What I have to guarantee is that the tragedy and chaotic situation in London does not infect the European decision-making process. Europeans have to vote by May 26 for the future of this continent and we have to do this of our own will,” Weber told DW.

If the EU say no to Britain

If the EU says no to an Article 50 extension then the UK will crash out of the bloc on March 29 with no agreement, likely causing considerable economic damage to both Britain and European Union members.

Weber told DW that this scenario is entirely plausible.

“If the political class fails so totally in Great Britain, then we as Europeans cannot solve the British domestic internal problems, that’s the situation,” he said. “We are ready.”

Up until now, the EU has presented a unified front in Brexit negotiations. But if just one member state rejects the idea of an extension — the opportunity is over, and the extension will be refused.

While this does appear to be the least-likely option, countries such as France are taking a notably strong stance on the issue. The French president’s office has said it is still working towards March 29 as the likely exit date, unless the UK can provide a credible strategy.

Source: Published by dw

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