/EU agrees to January 31 Brexit extension

EU agrees to January 31 Brexit extension

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, left, with European Council President Donald Tusk | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Ambassadors meeting in Brussels took the decision in just 15 minutes.

The EU27 agreed at a meeting of ambassadors in Brussels to a Brexit extension until January 31.

The official decision must be taken by EU leaders but that will be done by so-called “written procedure,” which is now a formality and is expected to be launched Tuesday and take around 24 hours.

Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU leaders earlier this month agreed a draft deal setting out the terms of the U.K.’s exit from the EU, that deal has not yet been approved by lawmakers. Monday’s decision means the U.K. cannot now exit the European Union with no agreement legally in place on October 31 — the deadline set by the previous extension — something the EU27 and many in the U.K. were keen to avoid.

Ambassadors took the decision in just 15 minutes on Monday morning after France signaled overnight it was removing its objection to an extension. The change in position happened over the weekend after French President Emmanuel Macron had a phone conversation with Johnson on Sunday afternoon and after further conversations between the EU27 and the U.K., according to an official close to the French president.

All the legal documents setting out the terms of the extension were approved without amendment by the ambassadors. They state that the extension is conditional on the U.K. not acting to “jeopardize” the EU’s objectives and decision-making process. It also states that the extension cannot be used for further negotiations on the Brexit deal — although the terms of a previous extension contained an identical “no renegotiation” clause yet the EU allowed the Withdrawal Agreement to be reopened and substantial changes were made.

During the extension period, the U.K. will have to appoint a European commissioner as it “will remain a member state until the new withdrawal date, with full rights and obligations,” the text states, according to a copy seen by POLITICO.

One diplomat in the room said the meeting was a “rubber stamping” exercise, while another said the discussion was “smooth.” But EU negotiator Michel Barnier, who briefed ambassadors at the meeting, said there was still a “great lack of certainty” about the internal political situation in the U.K. He added that this lack of visibility leaves open any scenario on timeframe, according to another diplomat present.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted after the meeting was over: “The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the U.K.’s request for a #Brexit flextension until 31 January 2020. The decision is expected to be formalised through a written procedure.”

Johnson is compelled to accept the extension by the Benn Act, which was passed by the U.K. parliament in September and is designed to avoid a no-deal crash out from the EU. It states that, “the prime minister must, immediately after such a decision is made, notify the president of the European council that the United Kingdom agrees to the proposed extension.”

Under the terms of the extension, the U.K. can leave the EU earlier than the final end date on December 1 or January 1 if ratification in the UK and European parliaments has been achieved by one of those dates.

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