The European Union on Monday agreed a three-month flexible delay to Britain’s departure from the bloc as Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushes for an election after opponents forced him to request an extension he had vowed never to ask for.
Just days before the United Kingdom is formally due to leave the EU on October 31 at 2300 GMT, Brexit is hanging in the balance as British politicians are no closer to reaching a consensus on how, when or even if the divorce should take place.
Johnson, who became prime minister in July by pledging, “do or die”, to deliver Brexit on October 31, was compelled to request a postponement after he was defeated in parliament over the sequencing of the ratification of his divorce deal.
The 27 countries that will remain in the EU after Brexit agreed on Monday to put off Brexit until the end of January with an earlier departure possible should the faction-ridden UK parliament ratify their separation deal.
“The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK’s request for a Brexit ‘flextension’ until January 31, 2020,” European Council President Donald Tusk said in a tweet, referring to the idea of a “flexible extension”.
EU member states will need Britain to formally reply to its offer of a three-month delay before launching a “written procedure” whereby governments will have 24 hours to accept or reject.
“We can only launch the written procedure when we have the agreement of the UK government on the text,” a senior EU official said. Johnson is obliged by legislation passed by parliament last month to accept an extension once offered.
Johnson will respond to the EU’s delay offer once he has reviewed the details, his spokesman said on Monday.
Two senior EU diplomats confirmed that the written procedure period agreed was 24 hours, effective from the time London accepts the offer of a Brexit delay from October 31 to January 31.
Britain’s departure has already been delayed twice – from March 29 and April 12 – after Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, failed three times to get her deal ratified by parliament.
With British politics still paralysed over carrying out Brexit 3.5 years after a 52-48% referendum vote in favour of Leave, Johnson is demanding parliament approve an election on December 12 in return for more time to adopt his deal.
But he needs the support of two-thirds of the 650 lawmakers for a new election. A House of Commons vote was due later on Monday