BRUSSELS, Belgium (AFP) — European Union members on Monday agreed to postpone Brexit for up to three months — less than 90 hours before Britain was due to crash out with no divorce deal.
The next deadline for departure will be Jan. 31, 2020 — although the other 27 nations would allow an earlier date if London ratifies a withdrawal agreement before then.
"The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK's request for a Brexit flextension until 31 January 2020," the president of the European Council representing member states, Donald Tusk, tweeted.
"The decision is expected to be formalized through a written procedure," he said, after ambassadors met in Brussels to approve the extension.
According to a copy of the agreement seen by Agence France-Presse, if Prime Minister Boris Johnson persuades the UK Parliament to approve an amicable divorce accord before next year, Brexit could occur on Nov. 30 or Dec. 31.
In the meantime London must nominate a senior official to serve on the next European Commission and must agree that the withdrawal agreement it struck in September will not be renegotiated, according to the EU text.
Leaving the ambassadors’ gathering, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said it had been a "short and efficient and constructive meeting," adding: "I'm very happy that a decision has been taken."
A delay could have been agreed to last week, but Paris was reluctant, concerned it would do nothing to boost the chances of Britain deciding how to handle the end of its five-decade relationship with the EU.
Johnson had been pushing for a definitive break on Oct. 31 after finally striking a withdrawal deal with fellow EU leaders at an Oct. 17 summit.
But he has yet to persuade skeptical British MPs to ratify the accord, raising the specter of a chaotic no-deal Brexit and severe economic disruption in the United Kingdom.
In the meantime, he is trying to break the logjam, and strengthen his tenuous grip on office, by demanding an early election to secure a parliamentary majority.
But the British opposition has been reluctant to deliver the two-thirds vote needed to approve a snap election until the threat of a disorderly Brexit is off the table.
The expected decision to postpone Brexit beyond the end of the month would do this, but Paris wanted EU capitals to wait until the UK election timetable was clear.
On Monday, however, European diplomats said they would wait no longer and would make a decision without further delay after Britain agreed it would not try to change the withdrawal deal.
"The conditions of the extension have been specified and reinforced, notably on the fact the deal is not renegotiable," a French diplomatic source told AFP in Paris.
Later Monday, Johnson was to ask the House of Commons to vote on a snap election, which he wants to hold on Dec. 12 — after MPs have had time to ratify his Brexit deal.
However, he faces defeat on that move, as with his two previous election calls. He needs the support of two-thirds of the 650 MPs, but does not have even a simple majority.
The Labour Party dislikes Johnson's Brexit deal and says it will not back an election until his threat of leaving the EU with no deal is removed.
More than three years after Britons voted 52-48% for Brexit in a 2016 referendum, the country and Parliament remain divided.
Johnson, a leader of the Leave campaign, took office in July this year vowing to take Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31 whatever happens.
But MPs rebelled against his threat to sever 46 years of ties without a deal and passed a law requiring him to seek a delay if they refuse to accept his divorce terms.
© Agence France-Presse
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