EU Agrees to Extend U.K. Departure to Oct. 31: Brexit Update
European Union leaders agreed to extend the date of Britain’s departure from the bloc to Oct. 31. It’s longer than Theresa May wanted and there’s a risk she faces a backlash when she takes the deal home. It also potentially sets up a political crisis in the U.K. for later this year.
Time stamps are Brussels time.
- France had been pushing for short extension, others wanted early next year and the result was a compromise of Oct. 31 with a review in June
- May still aims to leave by May 22 to avoid EU elections
- October is party conference season in Britain. If May is still in office by then her rivals will be lining up at conference and there’s a risk they will be vvying to take the hardest line against the EU
- Pound unchanged as investors had long priced in an extension
Tusk Confirms Deal (12:53 a.m.)
EU Council President Donald Tusk confirms there’s a deal and he’s now going to talk to May.
EU Leaders Said to Reach Compromise (12:41 a.m.)
EU leaders have reached a compromise deal to extend the Brexit deadline to the end of October with a review in June, according to three people familiar with the situation.
EU Leaders Said to Consider October Deadline (12:29 a.m.)
With leaders struggling to decide whether to push Brexit back by as much as a year, or grant Theresa May’s request for a short extension until June, October is emerging as a possible compromise.
That would mean the U.K. leaves before the next EU Commission takes office and limit London’s entanglement in the next phase of EU business. Two officials suggested Oct. 21 could be the cut off point while two others floated Oct. 31.
France Pushes for Short Brexit Delay to June (11:21 p.m.)
France, which has taken the most hardline position in the leaders’ meeting, is pushing for a delay until June, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. And while other nations also support a short delay, France is the only one that is firmly opposed to a longer extension.
A majority of the 27 EU member states -- including Germany, Spain and Ireland -- are backing a long extension to around year-end, according to the people.
June is the date May asked for. But European Council President Donald Tusk said it wouldn’t allow enough time to find a way through the deadlock.
May Has Power to Veto Extension Terms (10 p.m.)
While Macron talks tough about the prospects for any extension to the Brexit deadline, May has a nuclear option if he overplays his hand. She could, technically, decide to veto any proposal the 27 other leaders make, according to a person familiar with the British side.
That’s because any extension of the period for exit negotiations must be agreed unanimously by every EU member country — including the one that’s leaving. If the EU’s remaining 27 leaders impose unacceptable conditions on an extra delay, May could refuse to sign up to it, the person said.
She would then need to go back to Parliament to decide a way forward, potentially involving a choice between canceling Brexit and leaving the EU with no deal.
French Push for More Conditions (9:45 p.m.)
France is pushing for more guarantees to be attached to the extension, according to a French official. France isn’t alone, as lots of other member states are also weighing the implications of a long extension, the official said.
It’s problematic to have a member state that is on the way out continue to enjoy full membership rights, the official said. The official said that it’s not true to say that anything is preferable to a no-deal scenario.
May Said to Be Evasive on Labour Talks (9:40 p.m.)
May was evasive when asked how talks aimed at finding a consensus with the opposition Labour party were going, according to two people familiar with the situation.
However, an EU official said May told leaders the negotiations with the opposition were going better than was being portrayed publicly.
May Could Stay Leader Through Long Delay (9:30 p.m.)
One question hanging over Brexit is how long May will remain as Tory leader and British prime minister. She promised her party she would quit to allow a new premier to lead phase two of the negotiations, on the future trade talks, once the divorce deal is done. But if ratifying the exit deal is delayed by nine months or a year, could she stay for that long?
One person familiar with May’s thinking said she’s standing by her promise to go when the withdrawal deal is ratified, though there’s no date for that. One of May’s Cabinet ministers -- Justice Secretary David Gauke -- said she should stay on for a year to provide stability, if necessary.
“I don’t think we should be rushing to change our leader when there is a big task to be done,” Gauke told BBC radio on Wednesday. “If we are still in middle of negotiations, if there is still considerable uncertainty, then I think you have to look at the particular circumstances there, and it may well be the case that the last thing we need as a country is a leadership election at that point, and the right thing would be for Theresa as prime minister to continue to get this process done.”
Iain Duncan Smith, a pro-Brexit former Tory leader, said May should not cling to power until she faces another vote of no confidence from her party colleagues at the end of this year.
May Says Labour Talks Going Better Than Portrayed (9:10 p.m.)
May told fellow EU leaders that talks with the opposition Labour party are going better than is portrayed publicly, according to an EU official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
EU Toughens Language to Stop U.K. Misbehaving (8:40 p.m.)
The latest draft conclusions of the summit show the bloc has added some language toughening up its conditions to make sure the U.K. doesn’t disrupt EU business during the extension.
The U.K. must commit to not "jeopardize the attainment of the Union’s objectives, in particular when participating in decision-making processes," according to the draft seen by Bloomberg. The 27 will meet without the U.K. "where appropriate," so not just to discuss Brexit as they do now.
This reflects concerns -- voiced particularly by France -- that the U.K. could seek to disrupt or interfere with EU business if it wasn’t getting its way in divorce proceedings.
Merkel and May Match (8:40 p.m.)
There was a moment of levity before proceedings got under way as Theresa May and Angela Merkel laughed heartily while looking at an iPad. What could they be watching? A person familiar with the situation explained: The two women were looking at a side-by-side photo showing them both dressed in blue jackets while taking questions in their respective parliaments earlier on Wednesday.
It’s Going to Be a Long Night (7:50 p.m.)
There’s a bit more confusion about how the summit could go than there was this morning. Two EU officials reckon the June 30 deadline that May asked for and Macron favors is now back in play, while others say the consensus is still for a long delay.
France is floating the idea of another summit to deal with the delay, according to two EU diplomats.
May has just finished talking to leaders. The other 27 now get down to the real discussion without her.
May Said to Insist Extension Plan Needs Exit Clause (7:30 p.m.)
May met European Council President Donald Tusk and pressed the point that whatever extension is agreed, it must include an early-exit clause, according to a person familiar with the meeting.
May has asked for an extension until June 30, and said last month she wouldn’t want to stay in the bloc any longer. But Tusk is pressing for an extension of as much as a year.
May told reporters on the way in that she was still aiming to leave the bloc by May 22 to avoid having to take part in EU elections.
Bettel Joins Leaders Wishing for Referendum (6:30 p.m.)
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said the "best outcome" would be for the U.K. to hold a second referendum.
"I still believe a second referendum will be the best outcome," he told reporters.
He’s not the only one who’s still wishing the Brits would just call it off. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said he’d welcome a second plebiscite, and Latvia’s prime minister also hinted the way forward was up to the "British people."
In his letter to leaders on Tuesday, European Council President Donald Tusk left open the possibility of Britain changing its mind, and the summit draft conclusions do too.
Kurz Backs Short Extension (6:05 p.m.)
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he backs a short extension but won’t block the U.K. taking part in EU elections if it’s the only way to avoid a no-deal exit.
Macron Says Extension Isn’t Done Deal (5:50 p.m.)
French President Emmanuel Macron struck the hardest line so far as leaders entered the summit talks. He said it’s time for the U.K. to be clear about its plans and the rest of the EU now needs to move forward with its own project.
Macron said he was keen to hear Theresa May’s explanations. "For me, nothing is taken for granted, and in particular no long extension. We need to understand why this request is being made and what is the political project that justifies it."
Merkel Says EU Should Be Open and Constructive (5:45 p.m.)
Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters the EU should be "open and constructive" toward the U.K.
“We need to ask ourselves what is in the interest of a future cooperation and what is in our interest," she said. "Also for us the highest priority is to have an orderly exit of the U.K. from the EU and to maintain the solidarity of the EU27. In this spirit, we will act, and I have no doubt that we will achieve unity in the 27.”
Latvia Says It’s Up to British People (5:40 p.m.)
Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krisjanis Karins said he was open to giving the U.K. some more time to decide what it wanted, while he stressed that the decision of what to do was up to Britain.
"The decision of what to do is up to the British government the British parliament and the British people," he said. "If the Brits are saying they need a little more time to decide what it is they want I don’t think we should say no to that, I think we should be open."
Czech PM Says He’s Fine With Delay to March (5:35 p.m.)
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said postponing Brexit day until March is fine with him -- he also said he hopes the U.K. is given much more time to decide to its relationship with the EU.
If Britain used that time to hold an election or a second referendum and stay in, that would be "fine," he said with a smile.
Varadkar Says Britain’s in a ’Bit of a Fix’ (5:04 p.m.)
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar continued his campaign to give the U.K. some breathing space, suggesting the EU should show Theresa May “some flexibility by giving them a little bit more time.”
The problem is Britain has found itself in a “bit of a fix.” “They don’t want to vote for the deal at the moment — and they half don’t want to leave at all,” Varadkar told reporters.
Lithuania Says Date Less Important than Decision (5 p.m.)
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said the EU will give the U.K. a longer extension than the one May has asked for.
“I’m very flexible because there’s not much sense to debate a concrete month. What we’d like to see to help and accommodate the U.K. to have any kind of decision finally," she told reporters.
May Says She’s Still Aiming to Leave by May 22 (4:45 p.m.)
Theresa May told reporters she’s still working to leave the EU by May 22 so Britain won’t have to take part in European elections.
She didn’t comment on expectations that the EU will push her into a longer extension that the one she’s asked for, saying the important thing is to be able to leave as soon as the divorce deal is ratified.
"I know many people will be frustrated that the summit is taking place at all, I greatly regret the fact that Parliament has not been able to pass a deal," she said on her way into the gathering.
Germany Said to See Extension to Around Year-end (3:45 p.m.)
Germany’s position is that an extension should last until around the end of the year, but the exact date is less important than securing a consensus among the 27, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Merkel and Macron are due to meet before the summit. Macron has been pushing for a shorter delay, and tougher conditions.
May Not Making Real Compromise: Labour (2:30 p.m.)
Theresa May’s government isn’t showing any real evidence of compromising in Brexit talks with Labour, leader Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman told reporters in London. Even so, he said some members of Cabinet are “clearly committed” to the process, and Labour isn’t backing away from the discussions.
Labour has shown it’s willing to compromise by supporting options in Parliament votes that run counter to its core position on Brexit, and has indicated to the government that it will move away from the party’s core position, the spokesman said. It’s now the government’s turn to move, he said.
Exchanges between the two negotiating teams are continuing today, with more discussions expected Thursday, the spokesman said.
Merkel Backs Extension of Several Months (2 p.m.)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she’d back an extension of “several months,” but wants it to be as short as possible.
“I will support -- and see if there’s broad majority for -- an extension of several months, but not far beyond that so that when the U.K. decides, an exit can proceed successfully,” she said.
“The extension should be as short as possible, but it should give us a certain amount of calm so that we don’t have to return to this issue every two weeks,” Merkel told lawmakers in the lower house of parliament.
May asked for a short delay until June 30, but European Council President Donald Tusk said that wouldn’t be long enough and is asking leaders to back an extension of up to a year.
Barclay Signals Openness to Long Extension (Earlier)
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay signaled the U.K. is open to a long delay -- as long as it can leave the bloc earlier if it ratifies the divorce deal. He reiterated, though, that the option he and the prime minister want is a short delay to June 30.
“If there were to be an extension beyond that, then it has to be one that is terminable,” Barclay told BBC Radio. “The sooner we can get our exit the better.”
Barclay also said talks with the opposition Labour Party to find a compromise have been happening “at pace” and have been “ constructive,” but added that the process is “difficult” because “it’s contrary to the normal tradition of British politics to be operating in this way.”
Barclay said he’s not in favor of a post-Brexit customs union with the EU -- a key Labour demand -- because the government has negotiated “something better in the political declaration.’’ He said Labour, as much as the government, needs to compromise.
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