politicshome: Ahead of the crucial EU Council meeting to decide on the length of any Brexit delay, European Council President Donald Tusk said there was “little reason to believe” the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy would lead to a deal MPs could support before the summer.
And he instead threw his weight behind a longer “flexible” extension – despite Mrs May pushing for a 30 June exit date.
Britain is currently due to leave the EU on Friday, and Mrs May has been trying to make the case for short delay in talks with European leaders.
But, in a letter to EU leadersheads of government in advance of the summit, Mr Tusk wrote: “Our experience so far, as well as the deep divisions within the House of Commons, give us little reason to believe that the ratification process can be completed by the end of June.
“In reality, granting such an extension would increase the risk of a rolling series of short extensions and emergency summits, creating new cliff-edge dates…if we failed to agree on any next extension, there would be a risk of an accidental no-deal Brexit.
“This is why I believe we should also discuss an alternative, longer extension.
“One possibility would be a flexible extension, which would last only as long as necessary and no longer than one year.”
The European Council president said any extension could be terminated “as soon as both sides have ratified the Withdrawal Agreement” – and insisted the UK would be “free to leave whenever it is ready”.
But he said: “Importantly, a long extension would provide more certainty and predictability by removing the threat of constantly shifting cliff-edge dates.
“Furthermore, in the event of a continued stalemate, such a longer extension would allow the UK to rethink its Brexit strategy.”
That has been interpreted as a clear signal that Mr Tusk hopes Brexit can be cancelled altogether during the extension period.
TUSK: DON’T ‘HUMILIATE’ UK
The precise length of the Brexit delay will be thrashed out at Wednesday’s summit of European leaders, with Mrs May making her case for a short extension with the option of Britain leaving on 22 May – before the European Parliament elections – if MPs get behind a deal by then.
After Mrs May makes her case, the other leaders will meet for dinner without the Prime Minister as they discuss a response.
France has reportedly been pushing for a conditional extension which would see EU leaders regularly review Britain’s ongoing membership of the bloc.
That could see the UK having to accept restrictions to its rights as an EU member, leaving it with less say in budget and trade talks.
“When you are a leaving member state, you are not a member state that can have a say in the important things,” an official close to the French president said on Tuesday. “We need clarity to protect the EU.”
But Mr Tusk’s letter pours cold water on that plan, and warns that “neither side should be allowed to feel humiliated at any stage in this difficult process”.
The support for a long delay has already triggered a backlash from Conservative Brexiteers.
European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “This shows that the EU has no interest in democracy and expects voters to be cowed into obedience.”
But MPs pushing for a second Brexit referendum urged the Prime Minister to accept a longer delay.
Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson, speaking on behalf of the People’s Vote campaign, said: “A crisis that has developed over three years cannot be fixed in three days and now is not the time for more brinkmanship, threats or hasty panicked decision-making.
“Instead, we need to embrace Donald Tusk’s offer of a longer extension in which we can work out once and for all what Brexit would mean. MPs would then have the chance to decide whether to put a properly negotiated Brexit back to the people where, for the first time, the public would be able to choose between leaving on specific terms or sticking with the current deal inside the EU.”
Source: Published by politicshome