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8th Aug 2022

Juncker rules out short Brexit extension without deal

  • Jean-Claude Juncker (l) and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier (r) at the parliament's plenary (Photo: European Parliament)

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday (3 April) ruled out another short extension to the Brexit deadline in a speech to MEPs, if the Brexit withdrawal agreement is not adopted by British lawmakers by 12 April.

Juncker said that British MPs - if they want to have another short extension - first need to vote to pass the deal already negotiated between the UK government and the EU.

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Juncker's comments come just 24 hours after British prime minister Theresa May asked for a short extension to be able to pass the withdrawal agreement with the possible help of the opposition Labour party.

"12th April is the ultimate deadline for the approval of the withdrawal agreement by the House of Commons. If it has not done so by then, no further short extension will be possible. After 12 April, we risk jeopardising the European parliament elections, and so threaten the functioning of the European Union," Juncker told the European parliament in Brussels.

May's request was a long shot with EU leaders who have agreed only ten days ago at a Brussels summit to delay the Brexit deadline from 29 March to 12 April.

Currently, if the Brexit deal is passed by 12 April, the UK is then given until 22 May to prepare necessary further legislation.

If the deal is rejected, the UK has until 12 April to ask for a long extension, on the condition Britain will hold European elections in May.

"If the United Kingdom is in a position to approve the withdrawal agreement with a sustainable majority by 12 April, the European Union should be prepared to accept a delay until 22 May," Juncker said.

EU leaders are worried that if the UK does not participate in the EU elections, but remains a member, it could upset the legal functioning of the EU, and 12 April is the last date when the UK can start preparations for the vote.

With only eight days until next Friday's deadline, Juncker's comments underline how little room to manoeuvre the British premier has, after MPs already rejected the deal three times in parliament.

"I believe a no deal at midnight on April 12 has become a scenario that looks more and more likely," Juncker said, adding: "this is not an outcome that I want."

Juncker once again said the EU is open to rewrite the political declaration on the future relationship, attached to the withdrawal agreement, to draw up a closer relationship with the EU - which might attract more Labour MPs to support the deal.

Juncker said the new relationship could be anything from a free trade agreement, to customs arrangements, to a customs union all the way to the European Economic Area.

"Whether this happens or not depends on the United Kingdom," he said.

No deal does not mean no commitments

Juncker also warned again that there will be conditions for talks with Britain even after a no-deal Brexit: the UK must honour its financial obligations to the EU, protect citizens' rights, and come up with solutions to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and preserve the single market.

"'No-deal' does not mean no commitments. And these three issues will not go away. They will be a strict condition to rebuild trust and to start talking on the way forward," Juncker warned the UK.

Further conditions would apply if the UK decided to ask for a long extension to stay inside the EU until a new referendum, or a general election, helps to break the political stalemate in the UK.

In such a case, EU leaders will expect a strong justification from May at next week's emergency EU summit, and ask for guarantees that the UK would not jeopardise the work of the 27 member states as it leaves the bloc.

A long delay, however, remains controversial inside the EU.

Juncker said on Wednesday he is on the side of patience.

"I will work until the last moment to avoid a no-deal outcome," he said.

Juncker followed that up with a stern warning: "The only ones who would benefit from such disruption are the opponents of the global rules-based order.

"The only ones who would cheer are the populists and the nationalists. The only ones who would celebrate are those who want both the European Union and the United Kingdom to be weak."

No-deal Brexit 'very likely', Barnier warns

After British MPs once again rejected all alternative options, the EU's chief negotiator said it is "very likely" the UK will leave without a deal. And a long extension needs a "strong justification" from the UK.

EU mulls three conditions for Brexit no-deal trade talks

The EU commission has set out conditions for the UK's future trade talks in the event Britain crashes out of the bloc with no deal - including solving the Irish border issue. An emergency summit on 10 April is possible.

Ireland stuck between no-deal Brexit plans and peace deal

As the possibility of no-deal Brexit rises, Dublin will be tasked to police the EU's new frontier. But leaders there insist there are no preparations for a hard border - because it also needs to protect the 1998 peace deal.

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