May discusses Brexit delay with Tusk in first acknowledgement of possible extension

25 February 2019 12:42

Theresa May and EU leaders have discussed the “legal and procedural context” of a possible Brexit delay, European Council President Donald Tusk has said.

The UK prime minister’s engagement in these talks marks the first time she has entertained the possibility of extending Article 50, the treaty clause that oversees Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

Nevertheless, May still believes an extension can be avoided and wants the UK to leave the EU on March 29 as scheduled, Tusk said.

“The less time there is until March 29, the greater the likelihood of the extension,” Tusk told journalists today. “It’s an objective fact, not our intention, not our plan.”

Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker spoke to May on the sidelines of the summit between the EU and the Arab League in Egypt.

An extension may be necessary because it’s hard to see the UK Parliament approving the current deal, having rejected it once already, Tusk said. “We’ll face an alternative: chaotic Brexit or extension.” Considering the current deadlock, Tusk said, an extension is a “rational solution.”

May today publicly reiterated that she was unwilling to extend Article 50, however, stressing at a press conference that she believes leaving with a deal is “within grasp”. A delay “doesn’t address the issue, doesn’t resolve the issue,” she said.

Negotiations continue in Brussels on the Irish backstop, the most controversial part of the deal. May is expected to make a statement on the next steps to UK lawmakers tomorrow.

'Turn down the volume'

Separately, a senior EU judge said today that the UK government should strongly consider an extension to Article 50 in order to allow “sober discourse about reality.”

“The exit day is not written in marble. Article 50 was not a tablet of stone,” EU General Court judge Ian Forrester said during a lecture in London.

“March 29 is not the hour of the second coming, or of the new millennium. It is a target date. If time is needed, let time be taken. I suggest we turn down the volume, milden the tone, hope for a rational outcome and take the necessary time.”

He said that for about 18 months after Article 50 was triggered in March 2017, it had seemed likely that the UK would exit the EU with a withdrawal agreement in March 2019.

This has been exploded, leaving the options of Brexit occurring on schedule, or subject to a short delay, or following a lengthy renegotiation or there being a revocation of the decision to leave entirely.

Forrester said he couldn’t predict an outcome. “That’s above my paygrade,” he told an event in London. “Quite a number of possibilities appear to be open. It seems extraordinarily clear we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

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