EU pursues Brexit ratification despite grudging delay request of Johnson

Top News | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 21 Oct 2019

Brussels officials are pressing on with plans to ratify the divorce deal as European leaders considered Prime Minister Boris Johnson's reluctant request for a Brexit delay.

Ambassadors and senior officials from the other 27 member states met yesterday after British MPs forced Johnson to send European Union Council president Donald Tusk a late request to postpone the withdrawal.

"The EU is keeping all options open and has therefore initiated the ratification process so that it can be handed over to the European Parliament [today]," an EU diplomat said. "The EU will probably pursue this strategy until there is clarity on the British side."

Tusk will spend a "few days" canvassing member state leaders, and diplomats said this would mean the British MPs will have to vote on Brexit again before hearing their decision on the October 31 departure.

"It was a very short and normal meeting of the EU ambassadors to launch the next steps of the EU ratification of the agreement," EU negotiator Michel Barnier said after yesterday's talks.

Diplomats said the ambassadors' meeting lasted only 15 minutes and had dealt simply with EU ratification, although a participant said they had "taken note" of Johnson's letter.

Asked whether he thought EU leaders would grant a delay, Barnier said: "President Tusk will consult in the next days."

On Saturday, MPs pushed through an amendment obliging a furious Johnson to ask for an extension until the British legislation governing the withdrawal is drafted and passed.

Johnson, who refused to sign the letter and insists no delay is necessary, plans to bring the Brexit agreement he reached with Barnier last week to a vote today.

MPs will thus have to vote without knowing whether EU leaders will allow an extension - and if so whether they will delay Brexit as far as January 31 next year, as the British letter requested.

"Further developments on the British side will have to be taken into account," another European diplomat confirmed. "What was decided on Thursday stays on the table. The British parliament didn't reject the deal, so no need to change course."

European sources were not sure how any decision on an extension will be made. Tusk could call a special summit this week, but diplomats said he is more likely to use a written procedure.

If the House of Commons rejects the withdrawal agreement, however, the EU leaders would probably want to hold a meeting to discuss whether it is worth giving a longer extension to allow Britain to hold an election or second Brexit referendum to break the impasse.

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