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European Council President Donald Tusk yesterday said he believes a “short extension” to Article 50 is possible, but that this would be “conditional on a positive vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons.” He added that no special European Council summit is foreseen for next week, explaining, “If the leaders approve my recommendations and there is a positive vote in the House of Commons next week, we can finalise and formalise the decision on extension in the written procedure. However, if there is such a need, I will not hesitate to invite the members… for a meeting to Brussels next week.” He added that the Prime Minister’s suggestion of an extension to 30 June “has its merits” but “creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature.”
This came after Prime Minister Theresa May sent Tusk a letter yesterday officially seeking an extension to Article 50 to 30 June 2019. The letter read, “I am confident that Parliament will proceed to ratify the deal constructively. But this will clearly not be completed before 29 March 2019.” The letter also said that the Speaker’s ruling on a third meaningful vote “has made it impossible in practice to call a further vote in advance of the European Council. However, it remains my intention to bring the deal back to the House.” The letter added, “I would be grateful if the European Council could therefore approve the supplementary documents that President Juncker and I agreed in Strasbourg.” The Prime Minister also wrote, “I also intend to bring forward further domestic proposals that confirm my previous commitments to protect our internal market, given the concerns expressed about the backstop.” May will discuss the extension with EU27 leaders at today’s European Council summit in Brussels. She is expected to make a short speech setting out her position.
In a statement from Downing Street last night, the Prime Minister said the expected delay to Brexit was “a source of great personal regret for me.” She added that the public were “tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows,” adding, “I agree. I am on your side. It is now time for MPs to decide.” She added, “I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than the 30th of June.” This came after May said in Prime Minister’s Questions earlier, “The idea that three years after voting to leave the EU, the people of this country should be asked to elect a new set of MEPs is, I believe, unacceptable.”
Responding to the Prime Minister’s statement, the Labour MP Lisa Nandy said, “There’s absolutely no chance she is going to win over MPs in sufficient numbers after that statement.” Nandy has previously said she is “looking for reasons” to support the Withdrawal Agreement.
Elsewhere, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Brexit spokesperson, Sammy Wilson, said on TalkRadio this morning, “I neither want this toxic deal nor the extension so there is no pressure on me or my party.”
Separately, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said, “There is a real risk of No Deal happening by accident,” adding, “It’s time now to cut the British Government some slack when it comes to their request for an extension.” He also commented on the UK’s request, “I don’t have a definitive view on how long an extension would be… [but] would prefer to see this resolved sooner rather than later.”
Open Europe’s Henry Newman told BBC Breakfast this morning that the Prime Minister “is less likely now to get the meaningful vote through next week than she was before.” Newman also told BBC News yesterday, “There is no way that the EU will not offer an extension at the last minute…[It] does not want to be blamed for destabilising the economy, particularly in Ireland, which is the member state the most at risk from a No Deal. They are trying to put pressure on the UK.”
Speaking on France24 yesterday, Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze said the EU27 were still undecided about what happens in case the Brexit deal gets rejected a third time, adding that a long extension could still be on offer as both sides want to avoid a No Deal scenario.
Elsewhere, Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh appeared on the CapX Free Exchange podcast yesterday to discuss the latest Brexit developments.
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The European Commission published a note yesterday, outlining its view on an extension of Article 50. The note states that the UK would have to choose between a “short technical extension until 23 May 2019” and a “long extension” which would involve participation in the European Parliament elections. It adds that “any other option,” including Prime Minister May’s suggestion of an extension to 30 June, would entail “serious legal and political risks for the European Union.” Among these risks is that the UK would seek a short extension but then ask for a “second, longer extension,” meaning it would not have enough time to organise European Parliament elections. The note also raised the prospect of complications for the reallocation of the UK’s seats in the European Parliament. The note adds that “under all circumstances and regardless of [which option] is chosen, the European Council should envisage a single extension, rather than a series of extensions.”
Meanwhile, French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said yesterday, “A situation in which [Theresa] May would not be able to present to the European Council sufficient guarantees about the credibility of her strategy would lead to the extension request being dismissed and opting for a No Deal exit.” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas commented, “With Theresa May’s letter, no problem has been solved. For the European Council to agree an extension, we need a concrete perspective.” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Austria would support a short extension, adding that he did not expect the UK to take part in European Parliament elections. Elsewhere, Polish European Affairs Minister Konrad Szymanski said May’s request “does not create any institutional difficulties for the EU27,” adding, “Poland will respond to the British proposal in a material and constructive way.”
Elsewhere, an EU Commission spokesman said yesterday, “[Jean-Claude Juncker] has clearly warned the prime minister against including a date for the extension that will be after the European parliament elections… the withdrawal has to be complete before 23 May , otherwise we risk facing institutional difficulties and legal uncertainty, given the European elections date.”
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told BBC Radio 4 this morning there could be an emergency European Council summit next week at which the UK would be offered a longer extension, adding, “We don’t know what the length would be and it could have some very onerous conditions.”
The Daily Telegraph
The Government has tabled a motion for Monday which will set out its next steps on Brexit. The motion, similar to those voted on in the Commons on 29 January, 14 February and 27 February, will be amendable.
The Labour MPs Lisa Nandy and Gareth Snell have tabled an amendment to the government’s motion, which calls for parliament to have a role in negotiating and agreeing the future UK-EU relationship. In particular, it calls for MPs to be able to set the UK’s negotiating mandate on the future relationship before 1 July 2019, and to have a vote on the future agreement before it can be signed by the Prime Minister. The amendment has cross-party backing.
At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, May dismissed the idea of so-called “indicative votes” in an answer to a question by Conservative MP Ken Clarke.
Elsewhere, in a point of order yesterday, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said yesterday that he has written to the Prime Minister requesting that the House sits on Saturday to resolve the Brexit crisis. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, that whilst this was possible, it would require a resolution of the House to be passed today or tomorrow.
House of Commons
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will this morning meet with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier before the European Council summit begins later today. He is also expected to meet with socialist European leaders, including Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
This comes after Corbyn yesterday walked out of a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May and other opposition leaders as the Independent Group spokesperson and former Labour MP Chuka Umunna had been invited. Corbyn and May later spoke by phone, with Corbyn saying afterwards that the Prime Minister was “in complete denial about the scale of the crisis we are facing and unable to offer the leadership the country needs.”
The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) yesterday voted to suspend Hungary’s ruling party Fidesz. The EPP political assembly approved the decision with 190 votes in favour and 3 against. Under the terms of the suspension, Fidesz will have to meet various conditions and a panel will judge whether the party is acting in accordance with EPP rules and values. EPP leader Manfred Weber said, “Practically it means that Fidesz cannot any more present candidates for posts in the party, they cannot vote any more for any kind of EPP assembly and they are even not any more allowed to participate in any meeting.”
After the vote, Fidesz leader and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, “We can be only be part of a parliamentary group that is clearly opposed to immigration and stands completely obligated to the defence of Christianity.” He also added, “The good news is that unity in the EPP has been preserved,” mentioning that Fidesz would be campaigning for an EPP victory in the European elections in May.
UK financial regulators have signed a deal with their EU counterparts, which will allow them to share information and co-operate even in a No Deal scenario. The Chief Executive of the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, Andrew Bailey, said, “The bilateral MoUs [memorandum of understanding] will ensure that there will be no interruption in exchange of supervisory information in the event of a no-deal exit from the EU. It sends a clear signal of the determination of the UK and EU authorities to work together. The MoUs build on years of continued working, and will ensure these can carry on if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement. We are encouraged by the approach of the EBA [European Banking Authority] on this vitally important matter.”
EU antitrust regulators yesterday imposed a €1.49 billion fine on Google for blocking rival online search advertisers. This is the third penalty imposed by the EU on Google in a space of two years, making the cumulative amount of penalties imposed by Brussels over €8 billion. EU Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said, “The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate — and consumers the benefits of competition,” adding that the fine reflected the “serious and sustained nature” of the infringement.