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EU Brexit negotiator says UK ‘decision more important than extra time’

Vienna, Feb 28: The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday repeated a call for a decision from London on its withdrawal deal, rather than seeking to delay the exit date.

“Today, we need above all a decision, it's more important than extra time,” Barnier told a news conference in Vienna, adding that the Brexit process stood at a “grave moment”.

European leaders have already warned that any postponement of the two-year Article 50 process would come with conditions.

Britain is due to leave the European Union on 29 March but is currently on course to do so without a deal after British MPs overwhelmingly rejected the withdrawal agreement in January.

“The duration of any extension would be linked to the question of what to do with the time,” Barnier said.

“If it's to sort out a technical question, it could be a few weeks to go up to the eve of the European elections.”

Barnier also raised the possibility of a longer extension in the case of “new British choices” but pointed out that “if at the time of the European elections the British are members of the Union, legally speaking they like other countries would have the obligation to organise elections”.

He re-iterated that the withdrawal agreement negotiated between the EU and the UK could not be changed.

Gesturing to the voluminous text of the agreement in front of him, Barnier said: “We have finished work! This text is the result of considerable effort that we have made with the British, not against them.”

Barnier said that talks with the UK government would continue next week.

He was speaking after talks with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who also pointed to the problem that the European elections in May pose for any extension.

“The participation of a country that wishes to leave the European Union in European elections would be more than absurd,” Kurz said.

“So our goal has to be that the exit, if it has to happen, happens in an orderly fashion,” he added.

However, if the House of Commons once again rejected the agreement with the EU in a vote scheduled to take place by the 12 March, Austria would be in favour of a shorter extension if necessary in order to avoid a hard Brexit, Kurz said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is seeking changes to a withdrawal agreement struck with the EU late last year, which she hopes will be enough to get it through parliament's lower House of Commons.

But if she fails, she has promised MPs votes on March 13 and March 14 on whether to leave the bloc without a deal, and if not, to seek a short delay.

 

(AFP/APP)

Posted on: 2019-02-28T21:50:00+05:00

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