Tuesday, November 30

Brexit can be delayed if UK calls new election or referendum



Michel Barnier has said a no-deal Brexit is becoming more likely by the day after the Commons rejected all the alternative solutions to Theresa May’s deal.

Speaking in Brussels, the EU’s chief negotiator said there had to be a positive vote by MPs in order to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit on 12 April.

No deal was never our desired or intended scenario, Barnier told an audience at a thinktank event. But the EU27 is now prepared. It becomes, day after day, more likely.

Three scenarios were set out by the EU official: agreement this week on the prime minister’s deal or a variant of it, no deal, or a long extension to article 50 requiring a strong justification.

Such is the frustration in EU capitals at the failure of Westminster to coalesce around a vision of its post-Brexit future that it increasingly appears that a lengthy delay beyond 22 May can only be guaranteed in the event of a general election or a second referendum.

Barnier said an extension beyond the end of May, requiring the UK to take part in European parliamentary elections, “would carry significant risks for the EU and therefore strong justification would be needed”.

On Monday night, all four options put to the Commons to break the Brexit impasse were rejected by MPs, although by small margins, raising some hope that a solution might be found later in the week.

Barnier pointed out that the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said on Monday that the EU’s patience had reached its limit. Personally, as the negotiator, I have some patience left.

The customs union motion tabled by the Conservative former chancellor Ken Clarke was rejected by a margin of only three votes, 273 to 276, while a second Brexit referendum fell short of a majority by 12 votes.

In the case of a no-deal Brexit, he said he would expect the UK to try to return to the negotiating table a few months later, but in that case the withdrawal agreement we put on the table at the beginning of this negotiation will be still here: citizens’ rights, Ireland, financial obligations.

During any long extension there will be no renegotiation of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, no, never, Barnier told an audience at the European Policy Centre event.

There will be no negotiation about the future relations we cannot, legally speaking, negotiate with a member state about the future relations. It’s as simple as that.

Barnier lamented the lack of debate in the UK about its post-Brexit relationship with the EU either during the referendum or in the months after it.

There’s no obligation in leaving the EU to leave the customs union, no obligation to leave the single market. I didn’t see the debate about what are the national interests of the UK.