EU leaders warn they’ll block Brexit delay without clear explanation

‘Under no circumstances an extension in the dark!’ European leaders warn Theresa May they’ll say no to Brexit delay without clear explanation of what UK wants

  • House of Commons voted last night to seek extension to the Article 50 process 
  • Brussels has said it will listen to a request but called on UK to suggest a way out 
  • Guy Verhofstadt said last night it was up to UK to take a ‘cross-party approach’ 

EU leaders have renewed their warnings that Brussels will not agree a Brexit delay unless the UK can suggest a way out of the current deadlock. 

The House of Commons voted last night to seek an extension to Article 50, which Theresa May says could be a short delay until June if Parliament approves her deal – or a much longer one if it is rejected again.  

Brussels has said it will listen to a request for more time if Britain provides a good reason, but Guy Verhofstadt said last night it was up to the UK to take a ‘cross-party’ approach to find a breakthrough. 

All 27 remaining EU states will have to agree a delay and leaders including Emmanuel Macron have said an extension would have to offer something new. 

Guy Verhofstadt, pictured in London last year, has signalled that Brussels will not agree a Brexit delay unless the UK can suggest a way out of the current deadlock

Mr Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, asked why Europe should allow an extension ‘if the UK government and the majority in the House of Commons are not ready for a cross-party approach to break the current deadlock?

He said: ‘Under no circumstances an extension in the dark! Unless there is a clear majority in the House of Commons for something precise, there is no reason at all for the European Council to agree on a prolongation. 

‘Even the motion tabled for this evening by the UK Government recognises this.’

European Council president Donald Tusk has indicated that the EU may be ready to offer a lengthy extension to negotiations if the UK wants to ‘rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it’. 

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Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl said there could be ‘some problem’ in agreeing an extension if it took Brexit beyond the date of European elections. 

The UK is not currently scheduled to vote in May’s European Parliament poll but could be required to take part if it will still be an EU member much beyond then.  

Irish premier Leo Varadkar said: ‘I think we need to be open to any request they make, listen attentively and be generous in our response. 

‘This matter will be now discussed further at next week’s European Council meeting and hopefully we will have more clarity from London in the meantime about their intentions.’ 

Theresa May is driven away from the Houses of Parliament on Thursday night. She is expected put her Brexit plans to a vote for a third time next week

The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt called for a ‘cross-party approach’ to find a breakthrough in negotiations after the Commons votes last night 

A European Commission spokesman said: ‘We take note of tonight’s votes. A request for an extension of Article 50 requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 member states.

‘It will be for the European Council (Article 50) to consider such a request, giving priority to the need to ensure the functioning of the EU institutions and taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension. President Juncker is in constant contact with all leaders.’  

Shortly after the vote, the EU Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted that a meeting with Romanian PM Viorica Dancila had been ‘calm and respectful of UK parliamentary procedures’.

‘Determined to defend EU interests and to build an ambitious EU/UK future relation as soon as possible,’ he added.

Irish deputy premier Simon Coveney has said the EU may offer the UK a 21-month extension to Brexit.

Mr Coveney said a long extension would give the UK a ‘long reflection period’ about the kind of Brexit they want and could facilitate a fundamental rethink.  

Mr Barnier earlier said: ‘What we need to move ahead is not a negative vote against no-deal. We need a constructive and positive vote.’

Mrs May sits on the front bench alongside Philip Hammond during a third consecutive night of high-stakes Brexit votes

He added: ‘I will continue to exercise patience and calm and to remain respectful of the UK and its people and of its legislative and parliamentary procedures. We will be expecting and awaiting the votes in that spirit.’

Holding up a copy of his Withdrawal Agreement, Mr Barnier said: ‘If the UK still wants to leave the EU and wishes to leave it in an orderly fashion – which is what the Prime Minister said – then this treaty … is the only one available.’  

Mrs May’s official spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister absolutely wanted and strived for the UK to be leaving the EU on March 29. Everything she had done since she entered office was intended to deliver that.

‘She didn’t want there to be an extension and brought forward the Withdrawal Agreement twice. Parliament chose to reject that deal and we now have to confront the difficult position that decisions taken by Parliament have left us in.

‘What we now intend to do if at all possible is to secure a deal which allows us to ask only for a short technical extension which would allow us to have left the EU by June 30.’  

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