Brexit: France warns UK it will not accept ‘repeated’ Article 50 delays after 31 October

UK could face cliff-edge in October

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Friday 10 May 2019 11:01 BST
Countdown to Brexit: How many days left until Britain leaves the EU?

France has warned that it will not accept “repeated” extensions of the Brexit deadline beyond 31 October, amid deadlock in the UK over the deal negotiated by Theresa May.

The warning, from a senior Elysee official, comes as the president of the European Council suggested there was a reasonable chance Brexit could be cancelled. “We must not get sucked into repeated extensions, that’s for sure,” a French presidential adviser said on Friday. The adviser added: “Our message is clear: a solution must have been found by October 31.”

The senior official did not categorically rule out a further extension, and expressed hope that talks between the government and the Labour Party would provide a workable majority for Theresa May to get her deal through parliament. “Maybe European elections will serve as a shock to reach a transpartisan deal,” they added.

But with no obvious road out of the crisis in sight, some in Brussels are now considering the prospect that the UK might stay after all. In a separate interview with Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, European Council president Donald Tusk suggested the door was still open for Britain to remain.

“After the British referendum in 2016, I thought that if we recognise that the case is closed, it will be the end. Today the chance that Brexit will not happen is, in my opinion, 20 to 30 per cent. That’s a lot,” he said. “From month to month, it is becoming increasingly clear that the UK’s exit from the EU will look completely different than the Brexit that was promoted. I see no reason to capitulate.”

As an EU member state, France has a veto over any extension to Article 50, though in practice the leaders on the European Council have tended to find a midpoint compromise when faced with dissenting voices.

Earlier this year Emmanuel Macron was thought to be responsible for the length of the current extension to 31 October; following the summit, officials in the room reported that most other member states wanted an even longer delay until March 2020, or would have had no objection to one.

Donald Tusk suggested there was a 20 to 30 per cent chance of the UK staying
Donald Tusk suggested there was a 20 to 30 per cent chance of the UK staying (AP)

Mr Macron was said to be pushing for an even shorter extension of a matter of weeks, but ultimately met the other member states in the middle to approve the Halloween deadline.

EU leaders are mostly taking a holiday from Brexit at the moment, avoiding discussion of Britain’s departure at a meeting in the city of Sibiu, Romania, which took place on Thursday.

They are, however, expected to return to the issue at a long-scheduled June meeting of the European Council, where a limited appraisal of the situation is expected to be held.

It is understood that other member states also have concerns about a further extension past October, because of the uncertainty it would put upon the European Union. EU officials have said the UK would have to have a good reason for another delay.

However, behind the scenes in Brussels, preparations are already being made for a further delay – including the redrafting of technical parts of the withdrawal agreement to include flexible dates rather than set deadlines.

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