Sun | Dec 15, 2019

EU grants Brexit delay to January 31

Published:Tuesday | October 29, 2019 | 12:21 AM
Anti-brexit demonstrators stand outside Parliament in London, Monday. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it’s Parliament’s fault, not his, that Britain will not be leaving the European Union as scheduled on October 31. The EU has agreed to postpone Brexit until January 31, after Johnson failed to get British lawmakers to ratify his divorce deal with the bloc in time to leave this week. (AP)


The European Union (EU) agreed Monday to delay Brexit by three months until January 31, acting to avert a chaotic United Kingdom (UK) departure just three days before Britain was due to become the first country ever to leave the 28-nation bloc.

The decision was welcomed by politicians in the UK and the EU as a temporary respite from Brexit anxiety — but not by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said just weeks ago that he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than postpone the UK’s leaving date past October 31.

In the end, the choice was not in his hands. The UK Parliament forced Johnson to ask for a delay in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit, which would hurt the economies of both Britain and the EU.

Johnson is now pushing for an early election as a way of breaking the political impasse.

He hopes voters will give his Conservative Party a majority, allowing Johnson to push through the divorce deal he struck with the EU and — finally — take Britain out of the bloc.

Lawmakers in the House of Commons were voting later Monday on a government motion calling for a general election on December 12.

Earlier in the day, after a short meeting of diplomats in Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that the EU’s 27 other countries would accept “the UK’s request for a Brexit flextension until 31 January, 2020.” Under the terms of the ‘flextension’ , the UK can leave before January 31 if the British and European parliaments both ratify a Brexit divorce agreement — either on December 1 or January 1.

“It was a very short and efficient and constructive meeting and I am happy the decision has been taken,” said Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.

There was no immediate response from Johnson, who is bound by law to accept the EU’s terms. But Johnson’s spokesman insisted it was Parliament’s fault, not the prime minister’s, that Johnson had failed to deliver his core promise of an October 31 Brexit.

“We should be leaving on October 31,” said Johnson spokesman James Slack.

“He did secure a great new deal, he set out a timetable that would have allowed the U.K. to leave on October 31 with that deal — and Parliament blocked it.”

Third delay

The delay is the third time the Brexit deadline has been changed since British voters decided in a 2016 referendum to leave the bloc.

Johnson took office in July vowing to “get Brexit done” after his predecessor, Theresa May, resigned in defeat. Parliament had rejected her divorce deal with the bloc three times, and the EU had delayed Britain’s scheduled March 29 departure, first to April, and then to October.

Johnson has faced similar political gridlock, as Parliament blocked his attempt to push through his Brexit deal before the October deadline and made him ask the EU for more time.

The prime minister now wants to shepherd his Brexit withdrawal bill through Parliament before the election, but Johnson’s opponents don’t want to give him that victory.

His motion on Monday calling for a December 12 vote — more than two years before Britain’s next scheduled election in 2022 — needs the support of two-thirds of lawmakers to pass, and opposition parties are reluctant to hold an election on Johnson’s terms.