Brexit: EU prepares to grant UK three-month extension

The EU is preparing to sign off on a Brexit extension to 31 January 2020 with an option for the UK to leave earlier if a deal is ratified, according to a leaked draft of the agreement seen by the Guardian.

Despite objections raised by the French government, a paper to be agreed on Monday circulated among member states suggests the EU will accede to the UK’s request for a further delay.

The UK would be able to leave on the first day of the month after a deal is ratified, according to the paper.

The draft paper suggests a no-deal Brexit on 31 October is off the table as demanded by opposition party leaders as a prerequisite for a general election.

Until there is official signoff on the agreement, there remains the possibility that the terms could change, but it is the first time firm dates have been written into an official document.

“The period provided for in article 50 (3) TEU as extended by the European council decision (EU) 2019/584 is hereby further extended until 31 January 2020,” the draft agreement says.

“In the event that the parties to that agreement complete their respective ratification procedures and notify the depositary of the completion of these procedures in November 2019, in December 2019 or in January 2020, the withdrawal agreement will enter into into force respectively on [the first of the month of the relevant month].”

The potential date of 15 November for the UK to leave the EU – an idea raised by France – is not included in the draft paper.

An EU declaration attached to the draft agreement stipulates that the bloc will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement. It is also says the UK has “an obligation” to nominate a candidate to join the European commission. The prime minister has previously said he will not put forward a nominee.

The European council president, Donald Tusk, has been in intensive discussions with EU leaders over the weekend. Ambassadors for the EU27 are meeting on Monday morning.

Tusk had said he wanted to avoid calling leaders to a summit in Brussels to discuss the issue and would seek to find unanimous agreement to allow sign-off via a “written procedure”.

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The circulation of the draft agreement suggests Tusk has been successful in convincing France, in particular, that a three-month extension avoids the EU being dragged into the domestic row in the UK.

A source close to Emmanuel Macron said an agreement between the EU27 on the new Brexit extension would “very probably” be announced on Monday morning following political discussions with London over the weekend, notably a conversation between the French president and Boris Johnson.

Among weekend developments that had persuaded Paris to drop its objections to a new delay lasting up to three months was “the significantly more likely prospect of fresh elections, now backed by several parties including the Liberal Democrats and the SNP”, the source said.

The conditions attached to the extension had also been “further specified and reinforced” on Saturday and Sunday, the source added, in particular the “non-renegotiability” of the deal and the fact that the 27 will be able to work on the bloc’s future plans without the UK.

While wishing to preserve the unity of the 27 that had been their guiding principle throughout the negotiations, the source said, Paris had “insisted on these conditions as necessary”.

The terms in the draft agreement are in line with those stipulated under the Benn act that forced Boris Johnson to make a request to the EU for a further delay.

The extension had been due to be signed off on Friday. But the French ambassador had stood alone at a meeting of EU diplomats in arguing it was not the right time.

It was suggested by France’s ambassador that only after the vote on Monday should the EU decide to “go short, to push for ratification, or long to accommodate a general election”. Only France insisted the EU wait on agreeing to an extension.

Since then, Johnson told the cabinet the French president, Emmanuel Macron, had informed him he was too isolated to insist on a shorter extension.

Developments over the weekend, in which the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party agreed to table a one-line bill in which they would back a general election on 9 December, have convinced many EU officials the UK will soon go to the polls.

Downing Street has let it be known that if Labour does not support its plan for an short extra period of scrutiny of the withdrawal agreement bill up to 6 November, and then a general election on 12 December, it will look at the joint proposal.


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