EU ready to delay Brexit, but not at any price

Faced with the specter of a chaotic Brexit, the EU is ready to give the green light to a postponement of the British departure.

But it will only with strong guarantees from London, warn European diplomats.

The scenario is more and more discussed in Brussels, as the 29th of March 2019 approaches, the expected date of withdrawal from the UK. And that the British have still not managed to agree on the type of divorce they could accept.

The EU would now think of a postponement of several months, not just a few weeks, say even British media. “Speculations”, sweep diplomatic sources questioned by AFP, deeming “premature” any debate on the duration of a postponement.

“There are a lot of ideas going around, and I’m sure it’s one of them,” but there is still a need for London to ask for something to be seriously debated, one source said.

“We have already made it very clear that we have not received a request for a postponement,” European Commission spokeswoman Margaritis Schinas said on Thursday. If it were formulated, this request should be argued and then accepted “unanimously” by the leaders of the 27, he added.

Several diplomatic sources have estimated that Europeans would probably give the green light to avoid a divorce without agreement, considered the worst scenario. But that they would not do it with gaiety of heart and would pose conditions.

– Brain teaser –

“It is not so easy to give more time,” said a European official, arguing that this scenario would further prolong the uncertainty. “Businesses and citizens want to know if the UK stays or not,” he adds.

An extension of “Article 50”, this treaty provision triggered by London to leave the EU, “is supposed to allow for finalizing procedures, such as ratification, but not giving more time to the UK” to get started okay, “warns this source.

Implied: the EU will only allow this postponement with the guarantee that the United Kingdom has managed to unite behind a firm position, which would then make it possible to finalize an agreement quickly.

“If they tell us that it is to organize new elections or a new referendum, that would be part of acceptable motives,” adds a diplomat, “but it must be short, no more than a few weeks.”

Many stress the European side the legal puzzle that would arise if the United Kingdom was still a member state at the time of the European elections scheduled for late May. London would be “obliged to hold elections,” says a European official.

And the UK “may have MEPs for a temporary period” until they leave, comments a perplexed diplomat.

– A “surmountable” problem –

As for the 27 of the 73 British seats that the EU has agreed to split among several countries including France after the Brexit, their new elected holders “should wait for the British departure to occupy them,” he adds. .

One diplomat even fears that London will take advantage of the legal fragility of this unprecedented situation to “take the European legislative process hostage” in order to obtain new concessions.

“What is realistic is a maximum extension until the constitutive session of the European Parliament in early July,” according to another diplomat. This would rule out the scenario of new British MEPs sitting in Strasbourg.

This hypothesis of a United Kingdom still in the EU at the time of the European “will be of course a problem, but it can be overcome”, nuance on his side Pierre Vimont, former number two of the European diplomacy, today researcher associated with the Carnegie Europe think tank.

“And these elections in Britain could even be an opportunity to know the state of mind of British citizens,” he adds.

Be that as it may, the official position of the British government remains for the time being that it wants no Brexit delay. “This is not a topic we have discussed with the EU,” said Theresa May spokeswoman on Thursday, “because we do not want to do it.”

Source: Seychelles News Agency