EU agrees Brexit extension to 31 January

A ‘flextension’ will allow UK to leave even earlier if a deal is ratified

European Council President Donald Tusk

The EU agreed on Monday to postpone Brexit for up to three months, stepping in with a decision less than 90 hours before Britain was due to crash out with no divorce deal. This means that the next deadline for departure will be 31 January next year, but the UK is now given the option to leave earlier if a deal is ratified, clearing the way for opposition parties to back a general election.

The announcement was made by the President of the European Council Donald Tusk after a 30-minute meeting of European envoys. “The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK’s request for a new flextension until 31 January 2020. The decision is expected to be formalised through a written procedure,” Tusk tweeted.

According to a copy of the agreement seen by AFP, if PM Boris Johnson convinces the UK parliament to approve an amicable divorce accord before next year, Brexit could happen on 30 November or 31 December. But in the meantime, under the terms of the extension, London must nominate a senior official to serve on the next European Commission and must agree that the withdrawal agreement it struck last month will not be renegotiated anymore, according to the EU text. 

By agreeing the extension through a written procedure, most likely on Tuesday, EU leaders will avoid convening for a summit in Brussels, as well.

“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 agreement reads.

The decision to grant this, the third extension, followed intensive discussions over the weekend, including a conversation between the French president, Emmauel Macron, and Johnson. Among weekend developments that persuaded Paris to drop its objections to a further delay of 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”, a French official told The Guardian.

Later Monday, Johnson was to ask the House of Commons to vote on a snap election, which he wants to hold on 12 December - after MPs have had time to ratify his Brexit deal. However he faces defeat on that move, as with his two previous election calls since the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National party have said they would back a general election only if no deal on 31 October was “taken off the table”. The Labour party, in the meantime continues to insist it will not back an election unless there are further assurances that the UK will not crash out on 31 January.

More than three years after Britons voted 52-48 percent 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 31 October. 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 refused to accept his divorce term.

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