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EU poised to grant Britain a long Brexit delay at emergency summit

An anti-Brexit protester with face painted in the colors of the European Union (EU) flag and UK national flag. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
An anti-Brexit protester with face painted in the colors of the European Union (EU) flag and UK national flag. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

European Union leaders are set to grant Britain a long extension of Article 50 — the mechanism that notifies the EU that the UK will leave the bloc — at an emergency summit on Wednesday.

UK prime minister Theresa May went on a whistle-stop tour of Germany and France on Tuesday to shore up support from two of the 28-nation bloc’s most influential officials to delay Brexit until 30 June. However, as European Council chief Donald Tusk stipulated earlier this month, as well as Tuesday night in a formal letter on the eve of the summit, he is pushing for member states to offer a one-year “flexible” extension to Article 50 with the option to withdraw any time during that period, if UK parliament comes to an agreement.

May is expected to immediately head to Belgium after her weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons, where opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour party will grill the prime minister on all matters, not just Brexit.

The emergency summit in Brussels will be begin at 6pm local time and May will formally present her case to the remaining 27 member states. EU leaders will then go to dinner without May and discuss their response.

If EU leaders reject the Brexit delay proposal or don’t go with Tusk’s proposition for a long Brexit delay, Britain will leave the bloc without a deal at 11pm local time on Friday, 12 April.

Any Brexit delay does not mean talks will reopen between the UK and the EU. Extending Article 50 to June 30 or even by a year effectively just gives May more time to try and push through the withdrawal agreement she already sealed with the bloc. She has tried three times before and each time it has been rejected.

“Our experience so far, as well as the deep divisions within the House of Commons, give us little reason to believe that the ratification process can be completed by the end of June,” Tusk said in his letter.

“In reality, granting such an extension would increase the risk of a rolling series of short extensions and emergency summits, creating new cliff-edge dates. This, in turn, would almost certainly overshadow the business of the EU27 in the months ahead. The continued uncertainty would also be bad for our businesses and citizens. Finally, if we failed to agree on any next extension, there would be a risk of an accidental no-deal Brexit.

“This is why I believe we should also discuss an alternative, longer extension.

It’s for this reason Tusk wants to delay Brexit for another year. He said in his open letter Tuesday night that a delay to 30 June wouldn’t give May enough time to ratify the deal in parliament.

Sterling against the US dollar (GBPUSD=X) — a defacto barometer on how Brexit talks are progressing — remained flat in early morning trading on Wednesday. Traders are waiting for the final decision from the EU on whether there will be a delay to Brexit or whether Britain will be forced to crash out of the EU on Friday without a deal. Meanwhile, the UK could always cancel Brexit.

Chart: Yahoo Finance
Chart: Yahoo Finance