News & Insights

Countdown to Brexit: 2 Days - Creak…audible signs of Brexit stress

12 Apr 2019

European President, Donald Tusk, reported on the outcome of the Council summit and it’s subsequent meeting with Prime Minister, Theresa at 02:15 local time.

He said: "The course of action will be entirely in the UK's hands: they can still ratify the withdrawal agreement, in which case the extension can be terminated”. It is for the UK to rethink its strategy or choose to "cancel Brexit altogether".

He concluded: "Let me finish with a message to our British friends: This extension is as flexible as I expected, and a little bit shorter than I expected, but it's still enough to find the best possible solution. Please do not waste this time."

3 elements of the EU offer to UK for a Brexit extension:

  • “only as long as necessary” - and "no longer than 31 October." Time has been granted for the UK to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement;
  • The UK "must hold the elections to the European Parliament" on 23 May. If it fails to do this, the UK will leave on 1 June – “deal or no-deal”;
  • There is no possibility of re-opening of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations.

Mrs May then spoke to reporters, saying that although the delay extends until 31 October, the UK can leave before then if MPs pass ‘her’ withdrawal deal. "I know that there is huge frustration from many people that I had to request this extension…The UK should have left the EU by now and I sincerely regret the fact that I have not yet been able to persuade Parliament to approve a deal…I do not pretend the next few weeks will be easy, or there is a simple way to break the deadlock in Parliament…But we have a duty as politicians to find a way to fulfil the democratic decision of the referendum, deliver Brexit and move our country forward…Nothing is more pressing or more vital."

Mrs may confirmed that the UK "will continue to hold full membership rights and obligations [of the EU]" during the delay.

Background

In the run up to this evening’s emergency European Council meeting, specially convened to decide the fate of Brexit, reports from across Europe expected the request for a Brexit delay to 30 June to be rejected. Leaders of the remaining EU27 nations were split between those who support a Brexit delay until 31 December this year - and those who think the end of March 2020 would be “safest”.

Downing Street press releases on the Prime Minister’s visits to Berlin and Paris, yesterday were ‘terse’: The Prime Minister met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin for a working lunch. Ahead of EU Council tomorrow, the leaders discussed the UK’s request for an extension of Article 50 to 30 June - with the option to bring this forward if a deal is ratified earlier. Mrs May outlined the steps the government is taking to bring the Brexit process to a successful conclusion, and updated Chancellor Merkel on the ongoing discussions with the Opposition. The leaders “agreed on the importance of ensuring Britain’s orderly withdrawal from the European Union.”

Later in the day, the Prime Minister met with President Macron in Paris. The Leaders discussed the UK’s request for an extension of Article 50 to 30 June. May updated Macron on the ongoing talks with the Opposition to find a way forward that respects the result of the 2016 referendum. They also discussed the upcoming European Parliamentary elections - with the PM saying that the government was “working very hard to avoid the need for the UK to take part”.

There had to be a unanimous agreement from the 27 members of the European Council on the length and terms of an extension. An abstention or vote against means the UK leaving the EU on Friday with no-deal. Conditions for any extension are likely to include: full participation in the European Parliamentary elections on 23 May; and the UK losing its right to appoint a European Commissioner – and much, much more. And, simply put, the UK has to accept any offer in full – there is no time to think about re-negotiating.

The legal timetable set for Parliamentary Elections – have already forced a move that has incensed the ERG within the Tory party. The ‘European Parliamentary Elections (Appointed Day of Poll) Order 2019’ came into force today, 10 April 2019. It “appoints Thursday 23rd May 2019 as the day of the poll in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar” – and has triggered the process and timetable for returning officers to prepare for the election. The Conservative party opened and closed applications for Tory MEP candidates in a single day, yesterday.

Key times for Brexit events today, 10 April 2019:

  • 12.00: Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons. Both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn avoided mention of Brexit;
  • 17:00: Theresa May arrived at the summit in Brussels to present her case to the European Council for a Brexit extension;
  • 19:00: Theresa May left the meeting. The Leaders of the remaining EU27 nations will dine without her - and decide the future of Brexit
  • 0:215: next morning: Announcement of outcome and press conferences.

A draft press release had been seen and reported by a number of news agencies, yesterday. EU leaders will offer the UK a further ‘long’ extension to Brexit – with the final date is yet to be firmed up - to allow for "ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement…such an extension should last only as long as necessary and, in any event, no longer than [XX.XX.XXXX ]… If the UK is still a Member of the EU on 23-26 May 2019, and if it has not ratified the Withdrawal Agreement by 22 May 2019, it must hold the elections to the European Parliament in accordance with Union law. If the United Kingdom fails to live up to this obligation, the withdrawal will take place on 1 June 2019."

It reiterates that the EU will not contemplate reopening the Withdrawal Agreement — although the EU is prepared to reconsider the text of the Political Declaration. “Any unilateral commitment, statement or other act should be compatible with the letter and the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement and must not hamper its implementation."

The document states that the UK is free to revoke its Article 50 notification "at any time" — an action that would halt the Brexit process at a stroke.

Meanwhile, the Brexit secretary - Steve Barclay, speaking on BBC Radio 4 - confirmed that the Government will turn Parliament over to MPs tomorrow – allowing a series of votes on options into a binding decision in a possible last-ditch attempt to break the Commons deadlock leaving the EU.

President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, was present for the first part of the European Council summit. In a press briefing after his session with the EU leaders he raised eight points:

  1. it is important to end the uncertainty around Brexit;
  2. a no-deal Brexit could be avoided at all costs;
  3. the European Parliament wants to see an agreement between the Government and the opposition in London as soon as possible;
  4. he wants greater clarity about the UK’s future relationship with the EU;
  5. the European Parliament wants more clarity about what is being negotiated in London - and it wants to know if there will be a clear majority of a way ahead;
  6. the European Parliament wants to know the UK will do if no agreement is reached. Will there be a referendum or a general election - or will article 50 be revoked?
  7. any extension must not be allowed to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement;
  8. if the UK remains in the EU beyond the European elections, it must take part in those elections. But the elections should not be viewed as a game!

He is still seeking clarity about what would happen to British MEPs after Brexit. They will not be able to stay in the European Parliament, and may be appointed, therefore, for just a few days. And in this case, it will have left void the re-allocation of the UK MEPs seats across the remaining 27 nations until the next elections in five years’ time.

Donald Tusk addressed parallel issues of the UK having a disruptive influence on Europe during its time in limbo – still a member of the EU but in a state of waiting to leave: “Some of you have raised concerns that the UK’s continued presence as a departing EU country would pose risks for the functioning of the EU27 at a time of key decisions on its future. To address them we would need to agree on a number of conditions: no re-opening of the Withdrawal Agreement; no start of the negotiations on the future, except for the Political Declaration; the UK would have to maintain its sincere cooperation also during this crucial period, in a manner that reflects its situation as a departing member state.”

Reports from the meeting said that “opinion among leaders as to the length of any Brexit delay granted to the UK is divided. Most of the EU leaders have argued in favour of granting a longer extension to the UK. Germany, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Portugal have all called for a longer delay – potentially to the end of 2019. However, France's Emmanuel Macron and the Austrian Chancellor are calling for a shorter extension to "put more pressure on the UK" to come up with a solution.

Background

European Council Summit, Brussels, 10 April 2019 - dinner menu:

  • Salade Tiede de Saint-Jacques (Warm scallop salad)
  • Dos de cabillaud, crevettes gris, mini arrancinis aux champingnons (Loin of cod with brown shrimps and mini mushroom arrancicni)
  • Parfait glaceaux noix de macademia (Iced Macedonia nut parfait)

References

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2019/832/contents/made

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-19-2076_en.htm

This article first appeared on the website for Brexit Partners (www.brexit-partners.com). 

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