March 19, 2019
By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Any Brexit delay would cause economic and political costs for the European Union, which must be weighed carefully against potential benefits, the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Tuesday.
Barnier spoke ahead of an EU leaders’ summit on Thursday and Friday where they could decide on postponing Brexit beyond the current date of March 29, should British Prime Minister Theresa May request that.
“EU leaders will need a concrete plan from the UK in order to be able to make an informed decision,” Barnier said, adding that the key questions the other 27 national leaders would ask May would include:
“Does an extension increase the chances for the ratification of the withdrawal agreement? Will the UK request an extension because it wants a bit more time to rework the political declaration (on future EU-UK ties)?”
“What would be the purpose and the outcome of an extension? How can we ensure that at the end of a possible extension we are not back in the same situation as today?”
Barnier said the British government and parliament must decide quickly on how to move forward.
“The European Council will need to assess what is in the best interest of the EU. Extending uncertainty without a clear plan would add to the economic costs to our businesses but could also incur a political cost for the EU.”
He reiterated the EU’s line that the bloc could upgrade the political declaration on new EU-UK ties after Brexit – which forms part of the stalled divorce package – should that help build a majority for the deal in the divided House of Commons.
He said the EU would not renegotiate the main legal withdrawal treaty.
“Voting against no-deal does not prevent it from happening,” he said of last week’s votes in the House of Commons in which majority of lawmakers said they did not want to crash out from the EU without an divorce agreement to mitigate the damages.
“Everyone should now finalize all preparations for no-deal scenario. On the EU side, we are prepared.”
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)