The European Union received on Saturday evening three British letters: a first, from the Prime Minister’s Office but unsigned, calling for a postponement of Brexit beyond 31 October, and two others asking not to take it into account.
Donald Tusk confirmed in the late evening Saturday, October 19, to have received a letter from London requesting a new postponement of Brexit, normally scheduled for October 31. The President of the European Council added that he would “start consulting EU leaders on how to react”. For the deadline to be effective, the other 27 EU members must indeed approve the postponement by unanimity.
This request is the result of a vote of the British deputies, who decided Saturday, by a narrow majority – 322 votes for and 306 votes against – to postpone their decision on the divorce agreement announced Thursday between London and Brussels.
Boris Johnson did not sign
Several media reports, however, that Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister who wants a Brexit at all costs on October 31, did not sign the request for postponement letter.
He instead sent a second letter, signed, specifying that he did not want this delay. “Since I am Prime Minister and again today in Parliament, I have clearly stated my opinion and the position of the government that a further extension would harm the interests of the United Kingdom and our European partners, and our relationship, “writes the Prime Minister. He also said he was confident that the process for the UK Parliament to pass the necessary legislation to implement the Brexit agreement would be finalized by October 31, according to the second letter, published on Twitter by the Financial Times correspondent in Brussels.
A third letter has finally been written by the British Ambassador to the European Union, Tim Barrow, to clarify that the one demanding a delay is only sent to comply with the law.
The law that forced Boris Johnson to demand this extension was dubbed the “Benn Act”, named after Labor MP Hillary Benn (opposition) who introduced it to the House of Commons. It stipulates that if no exit agreement is approved by the British Parliament by 19 October, the Prime Minister must call for a postponement of Brexit until 31 January 2020. “The purpose of this law is to ensure that the United Kingdom United does not leave the European Union without an agreement, “said Hillary Benn.
Additional time concerning the date of Brexit “is in the interest of nobody,” reacted earlier Saturday the Elysee.
The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react. #Brexit
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) October 19, 2019
New debate Monday?
It seems unlikely, however, that the Twenty-Seven, whose ambassadors will meet on Sunday morning to discuss the rest of the process, refuse to grant London this additional period.
Boris Johnson told parliamentarians on Saturday that his government would submit next week the legislative acts needed to leave the EU under the new agreement on 31 October. But this approach would also provide the opportunity for Members, including the opposition, to amend these texts and to try, for the Labor Party, for example, to introduce the obligation to hold a referendum to confirm this agreement.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Minister of Relations with Parliament, said Saturday that the government plans to submit the Brexit agreement to debate and vote on Monday. But House Speaker John Bercow said Monday he will vote on the possibility of organizing the new debate. Several parliamentarians had previously reminded him that he himself had exhumed under the government of Theresa May, last March, a provision dating back to 1604 and prohibiting the same question be submitted twice to a vote in the same session parliamentary.
The firmness of the British Parliament
Taken out in extremis after laborious negotiations on Thursday, the agreement was supposed to settle the conditions of the divorce after 46 years of common life, allowing a smooth exit accompanied by a period of transition current at least until the end of 2020.
But his success was suspended by the approval of the British Parliament, which has already been intransigent in the past. MEPs have three times rejected the previous exit agreement between former Prime Minister Theresa May and the other 27 members of the European Union.