By Al Jazeera
Brexit deadline has been changed for second time since the 2016 referendum on Britain’s departure from the EU.
The European Council agreed on Monday morning to grant Britain a new Brexit delay to January 31 next year.
“The EU 27 has agreed that it will accept the UK’s request for a Brexit flextension (…) The decision is expected to be formalized through a written procedure,” European Council President Donald Tusk posted on Twitter.
Tusk’s announcement came as European Union diplomats met in Brussels to sign off on the new delay to Britain’s departure from the bloc, which had been due in just three days, on October 31.
According to a copy of the agreement seen by the AFP news agency, if Prime Minister Boris Johnson convinces the UK parliament to approve an amicable divorce accord before next year, Brexit could be on November 30 or December 31.
But in the meantime, 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 now be renegotiated, according to the EU text.
It is the second time the Brexit deadline has been changed since the 2016 referendum on Britain’s departure from the EU.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier said on Monday it had been a “short and efficient and constructive meeting”, adding: “I’m very happy that a decision has been taken.”
A delay could have been agreed last week, but France was reluctant, concerned it would do nothing to boost the chances of Britain deciding how to handle the end of its five-decade relationship with the European Union.
Johnson had been pushing for a definitive break on October 31 after finally striking a withdrawal deal with fellow EU leaders at an October 17 summit.
But he has yet to persuade sceptical British MPs to ratify the accord, raising the spectre of a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit and severe economic disruption in the United Kingdom.
A European source said the next step would be for London to formally accept the extension, after which Tusk will ask the EU capitals to sign off on it. “We hope for this to be concluded by Tuesday or Wednesday,” he said.
Leaving the ambassadors’ gathering, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said it had been a “short and efficient and constructive meeting”, adding: “I’m very happy that a decision has been taken.”
Johnson had been pushing for a definitive break on October 31 after finally striking a withdrawal deal with fellow EU leaders at an October 17 summit. He had repeatedly promised to pull the UK out – “do or die” on that date, and infamously said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask the EU for a delay.
In the meantime, he is trying to break the logjam – and strengthen his tenuous grip on office – by demanding an early election to secure a parliamentary majority.
But the British opposition has been reluctant to deliver the two-thirds vote needed to approve a snap poll until the threat of a disorderly Brexit is off the table.
The expected decision to postpone Brexit beyond the end of the month would do this, but Paris wanted EU capitals to wait until the UK election timetable was clear.
On Monday, however, European diplomats told AFP they would wait no longer and would make a decision without further delay after Britain agreed it would not try to change the withdrawal deal.
Various influential political groupings have sincere concerns over the deal that Johnson’s administration negotiated. Labour wants more protections for workers’ rights, while Northern Ireland’s DUP feels betrayed over a border effectively being drawn in the Irish Sea, which they say is undermining the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Liberal Democrats want to cancel Brexit altogether.
“The conditions of the extension have been specified and reinforced, notably on the fact the deal is not renegotiable,” a French diplomatic source told AFP in Paris.
Later on Monday, Johnson will ask the House of Commons to vote on a snap election, which he wants to hold on December 12 – after MPs have had time to ratify his Brexit deal.
However, he faces defeat on that move, as with his two previous election calls. He needs the support of two-thirds of the 650 MPs, but does not have even a simple majority.
Supporting an early general election would be like a “birthday and a Christmas present rolled into one” for Johnson, according to SNP MP Angus MacNeil.
His party, along with the Lib Dems, this weekend suggested holding an election three days earlier, on December 9 – analysts said it was an attempt to make sure Johnson can not go to the polls fresh from victory over agreeing to the deal and withdrawing the UK from the EU.
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 October 31.
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 terms.
The EU, forged from the ruins of the Second World War as a way to prevent another devastating conflict in Europe, is fatigued by Britain’s Brexit crisis – but keen not to be held responsible for an economically tumultuous “no-deal” Brexit.
French President Emmanuel Macron had been the main hurdle to an extension, arguing there had to be a good reason for a delay and that the British needed to break their own political deadlock. But a source close to Macron said the prospect of an election in Britain had strengthened significantly.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES
Featured Photo: Francois Lenoir/Reuters