European Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday that the UK needed to make a decision rather than call for a possible postponement of the Brexit deadline, adding that the talks on the UK withdrawal from Europe were at “a grave moment”.
“Today, above all, we need a decision,” Barnier said at a press conference in Vienna. “It’s more important than extra time.”
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who was by his side, stressed, however, that if an orderly Brexit was not possible by the end of March, Europe would act in favour of an extension of the Brexit deadline.
Recalling that there was “very little time left” before the 29 March deadline, Barnier said it was time for the British Government and Parliament to assume their responsibilities and the consequences of the choices they have made.
On Wednesday evening, the British Parliament validated a new strategy, presented Prime Minister Theresa May, for the discussions with the European Union that could lead to a postponement of the Brexit date. A calendar of voting in three phases at the House of Commons has been set. The last vote, on 14 March, could result in a proposal for a “limited” postponement of the British withdrawal, an idea May had opposed thus far.
Michel Barnier stressed that the main question for the Europeans in the event of a British request for a postponement was to “to what end?”
This extension can be “technical, to give the British Parliament time to implement the treaty” that was previously voted, the Frenchman said. “Should that not be the case, the Europeans would want to know what good it would do” to extend the deadline once again.
Since the British Parliament massively rejected the EU-UK divorce agreement in January, Theresa May has been trying to renegotiate a new text capable of winning majority approval in the legislative body but has had little success. Barnier reiterated that work on the Brexit accord had been completed and that it would not be redone.
Should the British withdrawal be delayed for many months, the late-May European elections would be problematic, Kurz stressed, since the participation in the vote of a country that wants to leave the EU would be “more than absurd”.