During a parliamentary debate on January 16, the British Prime Minister Theresa May hinted extending the UK’s withdrawal deadline from the European Union to beyond the March 29 date that had been in place for more than two years.
According to reports, most of the remain 27 EU members are willing to consider the possibility but have made clear that the onus is on the UK to define the next step in the negotiations between London and Brussels.
“We’re now waiting on what the prime minister (May) proposes,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said while reiterating that there is still time for the two sides to negotiate.
Diplomatic sources in Brussels have indicated that the EU is willing to make further concessions regarding the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, but will only do so with the approval of the Irish government.
Ireland’sTaoiseach, or prime minister, Leo Varadkar expressed his profound regret about British parliament’s decision to vote against the Withdrawal Agreement. He also made clear that the ball is now in Westminster’s court when it comes to spelling out what happens next. Varadkar later reiterated that Ireland stands ready to approve, if necessary, an extension of the deadline for Article 50, the provision in the Treaty of Lisbon that gives all EU members the right to quit unilaterally and outlines the procedure to carry out the process.
Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said his government would not give its consent to making major amendments to the UK Withdrawal Agreement. Britain is one of the Netherlands’ most important trading partners and the Dutch port of Rotterdam is a major logistics hub for shipping to and from the UK.
The Netherlands is bracing for the worst case scenario and has addressed issues ranging from the decoupling of shared gas and electricity networks to the recognition of diplomas and academic qualifications.
France is also preparing for a no-deal Brexit. A statement from the presidency following the defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement in the British parliament noted that a no-deal Brexit would be bad for Europe and for France, which is the entry point for much of the trade between the UK and the continent.
Sweden’s EU Minister Ann Linde weighed in on the subject and said she does not think there is scope for further negotiations, although she hinted that her government is willing to have some flexibility on the timeline for when the UK leaves the bloc. Linde added that the British House of Commons vote brings the UK one step closer to “the worst-case scenario” of a “disorderly exit.”
Further compounding the ongoing speculation as to what will happen next were comments by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, who hinted that the UK should stay in the EU, given that “a deal is impossible and no-one wants “no deal: to be the final outcome.