Tuesday

19th Nov 2019

EU open to imminent Brexit extension, Tusk indicates

  • British PM Boris Johnson (l) and EU council president Donald Tusk at the UN general assembly in New York in September (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The 27 EU leaders will decide "in the coming days" whether to delay the UK's departure from the bloc beyond 31 October, EU council president Donald Tusk told MEPs on Tuesday (22 October).

"I have no doubt that we should treat the British request for an extension in all seriousness," Tusk said, after British prime minister Boris Johnson requested the postponement, until 1 January, in a letter over the weekend.

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Tusk spoke in Strasbourg in his last appearance in a European Parliament (EP) plenary session before he leaves office.

He also spoke shortly before Johnson was to face crunch votes in Westminster on a bill to start ratification of his Brexit withdrawal agreement.

"I am consulting the [EU] leaders on how to react, and will decide in the coming days," Tusk told the MEPs.

"The result of these consolations very much depends what the British parliament decides or does not decide," he said.

A no-deal Brexit would never be the EU's decision, he added, after he had earlier urged the UK not to play a "stupid blame game".

The EP should wait for Westminster to commit to a final Brexit deal before MEPs ratified the accord, the outgoing European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, also told MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

"First London, then Strasbourg," he said, echoing Tusk.

Brexit had been "a waste of time and date of energy" for his staff, Juncker added, venting broader frustration.

And the EU had "done everything to make sure that this departure is orderly", he said.

For their part, MEPs voiced hope that EU leaders would give the EP a real chance to scrutinise details of the latest Brexit accord, which was agreed just last Thursday.

"I imagine the [EU] council will give us the time we need to ratify things properly, once Westminster has made its decision," Belgian MEP Philip Lamberts, who is a co-chair of the Greens, told reporters.

I Britain wanted an orderly Brexit, then "this is the only possible agreement", the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, French politician Michel Barnier, said.

Even if a Brexit withdrawal agreement was ratified, it would be the start of years-long negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship, he added, with Barnier due to lead a new EU task force on future British relations from 16 November onward.

Commons votes

The EP debate came as MPs in Westminster prepared to cast their votes on Johnson's attempt to leave the EU next Thursday.

Johnson wants MPs to approve, in principle, a bill that underpins British ratification of Brexit.

He also wants them to agree a three-day timetable to scrutinise details of the 110-page long legal text that enshrines Brexit in British law.

Opposition Labour MPs have criticised the fast pace of the proceedings.

If MPs do not approve the timetable on Tuesday, then Britain is unlikely to leave on 31 October.

Johnshon has threatened to pull the Brexit legislation and seek an election before Christmas if MPs vote to stop him rushing it through the parliament.

And last-minute amendments could complicate the process.

These could include calls for a second Brexit referendum or trying to force Johnson to stay in the EU customs union in the long term.

But even if the MPs bulldoze through changes to the Brexit bill, it will be difficult to change anything in the deal that was agreed by the 27 EU leaders.

EP demands

And even if Westminster leaves the deal unchanged, the EP could still obstruct passage of the accord on issues such as residents' rights.

The UK must guarantee to properly protect EU citizens in Britain if it wanted MEPs' assent, the EU parliament's Brexit point man, Belgian liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt, said on Tuesday.

People who missed the deadline to apply for the right to stay in the UK after Brexit, the so-called "stetted status", or who were still on waiting lists ought to be given clemency, he said.

More than 200,000 EU nationals in the UK were at risk of losing rights due to Brexit and London must create an "Independent Monitoring Authority" to give them the right to a recourse, the Belgian politician said.

MPs vote on Johnson's latest push for Brexit deal

The EU parliament is awaiting the decision of British MPs on the Brexit deal before holding a vote by MEPs, as British PM Boris Johnson puts the Brexit deal to another vote on Tuesday.

Brexit deal now hinges on Northern Irish unionists

Brexit negotiators held marathon talks but the Northern Irish unionists appear to be axing UK prime minister Boris Johnson's revised deal, as EU leaders gathered in Brussels to discuss Brexit but also other divisive, long-term issues.

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