Brexit will be delayed, even if MPs support Theresa May's deal, EU says
'Patience is wearing thin'
Brexit will have to be delayed, even if MPs vote in favour of Theresa May's deal, the European Union's chief negotiator has said.
Michel Barnier said the UK has taken so long to decide a course of action, the EU does not have enough time to ratify a withdrawal agreement before the Article 50 deadline. He also made assurances that the Irish backstop would only be a temporary measure.
MPs will vote again on Theresa May's draft withdrawal agreement on March 12 but Barnier insisted that, whatever the outcome, departure must be delayed.
Theresa May has maintained Brexit will happen on March 29 if her deal passes. Clearly not.
If the House of Commons rejects May's deal for a second time, as is expected, the government will hold a vote asking if MPs support no deal the following day. If no deal is rejected, a vote on extending the date of departure from the EU will take place on March 14.
In a joint interview with several leading European newspapers, Barnier was asked if the EU would be able to ratify the agreement if parliament approves it on March 12. He said: "No, no. There would have to be an extension that would be called 'motivated' or 'technical.'
"But you have to ask the UK. If there is a vote on March 12 and it takes two months for the procedure, it would be justified."
Germany's Die Welt and Spain's El Mundo report that when asked if an extension was the only option once a Brexit deal is finalised, Barnier replied: "Yes, you could say that."
— StefanieBolzen (@StefanieBolzen) March 2, 2019
The chief negotiator said: "The hypothetical duration would depend on what they want it for. I know there is the idea of an extension without conditions, but you have to know that an extension would serve to fix a problem, not to delay the solution.
"In my opinion, do not postpone the problem for three or six months, do not risk prolonging the general uncertainty of Europe beyond the elections, but it will be for the heads of state to respond."
The main gripe with May's Brexit deal from her own party is the Irish backstop, an insurance mechanism to prevent a hard border in Ireland. Barnier said the backstop would only be a temporary measure.
He said: "We know that there are misgivings in Britain that the backstop could keep Britain forever connected to the EU.
"This is not the case. And we are ready to give further guarantees, assurances and clarifications that the backstop should only be temporary.
"Guarantees, assurances, can be given in a document, perhaps next to the treaty, not in the political declaration.
"We can imagine an interpretative document, where there are elements such as those already in the letter from Tusk and Juncker. That was a letter from two presidents of two institutions. If the document is agreed with the United Kingdom, it would be much stronger.
"There cannot be a temporality clause, as it is impossible for there to be a unilateral withdrawal from it. The backstop must be and remain credible."