BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union agreed on Monday to delay Brexit until Jan.31, said the bloc’s chairman, Donald Tusk.
“The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK’s request for a Brexit flex tension until 31 January 2020,” Tusk said of the idea of a “flexible extension”, which means Britain could go earlier if its fractious parliament ratifies the divorce bill.
The bloc now awaits approval from London. Once that is in, a 24-hour countdown will start when member states can still object or else the decision will have been taken.
“This will allow for the decision to be formally adopted tomorrow,” an EU diplomat said.
An EU official warned, however, it might take as long as Wednesday, just a day before Britain would otherwise be due to leave the bloc on its current Oct. 31 deadline.
The decision came following a 30-minute meeting of the 27 EU ambassadors in Brussels after France dropped its objections that blocked the decision last week. Any delay to Brexit can only be granted unanimously by the 27 EU countries staying on together.
“The prospect of elections has strengthened significantly over the weekend,” a source close to French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier on Monday.
The third postponement of Brexit would come with conditions. They include a refusal to renegotiate their divorce agreement and giving a green light to the 27 capitals to meet without Britain to discuss the bloc’s future.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government on Sunday stepped up pressure on UK lawmakers to back an early election to break the impasse on Brexit three years after Britons voted to leave the EU.
A Downing Street source said the government would consider options including those proposed by opposition parties, after the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Liberal Democrats (LD) said they wanted a new poll on Dec. 9.
The delay envisages that Britain could also be out on Dec. 1 or Jan. 1, should parliament ratify the withdrawal agreement in November or December, respectively.
The bloc might ask London to name a candidate for the EU’s new executive European Commission, which is comprised of one representative from every member state and currently due to take over on Dec. 1.
More than three years after Britain voted to quit the EU, the country and its parliament remain divided over how, when and even whether to leave.
The matter has triggered a spiralling political crisis in the country where Johnson is now sparring with the House of Commons over calling an early election.
For the EU, the unprecedented loss of a member is a historic setback. But the 27 are also fed up with the intractable divorce, which is sapping time, energy and political capital that should be spent on jump-starting their economies and tackling security and other challenges.