European Commission expresses concern over May’s request to delay Brexit

Vidya Ram London | Updated on March 20, 2019 Published on March 20, 2019

Britain’s political crisis continued to unfold on Wednesday, as the European Commission swiftly expressed concern about the UK’s request to extent Article 50 till June 30, indicating that were the UK to seek an extension beyond May 23 when the European parliamentary elections are due to take place, there would be “institutional difficulties and legal uncertainty.”

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May wrote to EU Council President Donald Tusk seeking a short extension to Article 50 till June 30, and insisting she will press ahead with another vote on her withdrawal deal next week. It comes despite a ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow earlier this week that the same motion could not be put before the House repeatedly during the same parliamentary session and despite warnings from EU leaders that an extension would only be granted if the UK had clear and precise reasons as to why it should be given.

After details of the letter emerged, the Commission swiftly expressed concerns about the request. [European Commission President Jean Claude] “Juncker formally warned Theresa May against including a date for the extension that is after European Parliamentary elections. Withdrawal has to be before 23 May, otherwise we face institutional difficulties and legal uncertainty. Elections have to be held if extension is after May 23,” said Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission’s Chief Spokesperson.

During a heated session of Prime Ministers Questions, a defiant May had insisted that an extension that lasted longer than June 30 would require the UK to take part in EU parliamentary elections on May 23 (the new parliamentary session would open on July 2). “I do not believe such elections would be in anyone’s interest. The idea that three years after voting to leave the EU they should be asked to elect a new set of MEPs would be unacceptable…This is the point the House has the decision to take as to what it wants the future to be….”

In a letter to Tusk seeking the extension, May asked the European Council to approve the supplementary documents outlining legally binding changes to the withdrawal deal that were agreed between May and European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker earlier this month. She said this would enable the government to confirm changes to their proposition to Parliament, while they also intended to put further domestic proposals to confirm previous commitments to protect the internal market given concerns about the backstop. These additions would allow the government to bring the deal to Parliament again next week, and she was “confident” that Parliament would ratify the deal “constructively”. “While we will consult with the Opposition in the usual way to plan the passage of the Bill quickly and smoothly as possible, the timetable for this is inevitably uncertain at this stage,” she wrote, asking for the extension.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn slammed the government’s “incompetence, failure and intransigence,” and warned the UK was in a national crisis and called for May to hold talks with the Labour Party to find a route forward — a suggestion the Prime Minister side stepped.

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Published on March 20, 2019
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