European Union ambassadors have agreed that the bloc should grant Britain’s request for another extension to the Brexit deadline but have not yet figured out how long that delay should be.
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva, speaking in Brussels after EU ambassadors met with the EU Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier, said ambassadors from the EU’s 27 other nations accepted the terms of an extension and their “work will continue in the coming days”.
Two European diplomats said the ambassadors would meet again early next week. Ms Andreeva hinted that the EU would not hold a special summit on Brexit to approve the extension, saying the decision will be made in a statement.
Britain is scheduled to leave the 28-nation bloc on October 31 but has asked for a three-month extension to that deadline as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson struggles to pass his Brexit divorce deal.
Economists say a no-deal departure would hurt both the UK and the EU economies.
France, among other EU nations, has been reluctant to approve a long Brexit extension, saying Britain must present “a clear scenario” for progress before another Brexit delay is granted.
“Our position is that simply giving more time, without political change, without ratification, without an election, would be useless,” Amelie de Montchalin, France’s European Affairs Minister, told RTL radio.
Those comments followed Mr Johnson’s decision on Thursday to push for an early election to break the stalemate in Parliament that has blocked a Brexit deal. Mr Johnson said he would ask politicians to vote Monday on calling a general election on December 12.
To call an election Mr Johnson, who leads a minority government, must win support from two-thirds of the House of Commons. But opposition parties say they won’t vote for an early election until the Government secures an extension of the Brexit deadline.
Britain’s biggest opposition party has gone a step further, saying it will block plans for an early election unless Mr Johnson eliminates the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal.
Diane Abbott of Labour Party told the BBC her party wants an “explicit commitment” that there won’t be a no-deal Brexit, “because we don’t trust Boris Johnson”.
“We want to know that by some mischance we won’t crash out of the EU without a deal, because we’ve said for some time that coming out of the EU without a deal would be absolutely disastrous,” she said.
Until recently, Mr Johnson vowed that Britain would leave the EU on October 31 no matter what, with or without a deal, saying this was the only way to put pressure on European officials to make concessions.
Mr Johnson last week secured a new deal with EU leaders, but British politicians refused to approve it before an October 19 deadline imposed by Parliament. That forced him to ask the EU to extend the Brexit deadline to the end of January.
Sajid Javid, Britain’s treasury chief, said he believes the EU will ultimately approve a three-month extension. He said the only way to break the country’s political logjam was to call a new election and get rid of what he called the current “zombie Parliament”.
“Three-and-a-half years ago this decision was made and there’s been delay after delay after delay,” he told the BBC.
“We have to end this, end this uncertainty”.