Thursday 23 January 2020

Halloween Brexit is off the cards as UK given 'flextension'

British PM Boris Johnson and his adviser Dominic Cummings leave Downing Street. Photo: Getty
British PM Boris Johnson and his adviser Dominic Cummings leave Downing Street. Photo: Getty

The prospect of a catastrophic crash-out Brexit taking place within days has been avoided after the EU granted a "flextension' to the UK and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson grudgingly accepted.

Mr Johnson had said he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than agree to a Brexit delay beyond this Thursday, October 31.

Last night, he was forced to write to European Council President Donald Tusk accepting an extension of up to three months, but insisted his government was doing so "against its will".

As the House of Commons continues to debate holding an early election, voices in Dublin, Berlin and Brussels urged the UK to use the extra time well.


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's spokesman said the EU's decision to grant the extension "averts the risk of a disruptive 'no-deal'".

"We hope the extra time will be used to ensure that the Withdrawal Agreement agreed between UK and EU27 is ratified, enabling an orderly Brexit," he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government also welcomed the extension, a spokesman saying: "The ball now lies with Great Britain. And it's important to use the additional time productively."

The European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt posted a Twitter jibe aimed at Mr Johnson, saying he was "relieved that finally no one died in a ditch".

He added that the uncertainty on Brexit has "gone on far too long" and "this extra time must deliver a way forward".

Mr Tusk announced the move on social media, saying the remaining 27 EU member states had agreed it would accept the UK's request for a "flextension".

Under the agreement, the UK can leave the EU before January 31 if the Brexit deal is ratified.

The other potential departure dates are December 1 or January 1.

Mr Johnson was forced to ask for a delay to avoid a no-deal Brexit due to legislation that was passed by opponents in Westminster.

In his letter, he said that under the law, he has "no discretion to do anything other than confirm the UK's formal agreement to this extension".

He said the delay was "unwanted" and "imposed on this government against its will".


Mr Johnson said it was his view that "this unwanted prolongation of the UK's membership of the EU is damaging to our democracy and to the relationship between us and our European friends".

He urged the EU "to make clear that a further extension after 31 January is not possible".

Mr Johnson has been pushing for an early election in the hope that winning a Conservative majority would allow him to pass the Brexit departure deal he made with the EU earlier this month.

Last night, his government failed to get the two-thirds majority required in Westminster in a vote on a proposal to hold the election on December 12.

The debate continues today.

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