European Union ambassadors have agreed to delay Brexit, but will not make a decision on a new deadline date until next week as the EU Commission said work on this would “continue in the coming days”.
One EU diplomat told Reuters that France pressed the other 26 EU members to wait and favoured a delay until 15 or 30 November to keep pressure on the British parliament to approve Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal or face a disorderly Brexit.
“Everyone wanted a decision today. But France had a problem with that and wanted to wait until Monday/Tuesday to see what happens in London,” the diplomat said.
A source close to French President Emmanuel Macron said: “France wants a justified and proportionate extension. However, we have nothing of the sort so far. We must show the British that it is up to them to clarify the situation and that an extension is not a given.
“Briefings by Paris threatening a no-deal Brexit don’t make it any easier to find a solution among the EU-27. They are dividing not uniting,” a European diplomat said, adding that France was isolated in its position.
Mr Macron has previously managed to sway the bloc’s extension decisions, meaning options range from two weeks to the three months – to 31 January, 2020 – requested by Mr Johnson, or longer should it be clear that Britain is headed for an election.
Any delay can only be granted unanimously and it could come as little as 60 hours before Britain is due to leave.
The talks at the EU came after Chancellor Sajid Javid admitted the government’s deadline to deliver Brexit next Thursday “can’t be met”.
Mr Johnson said he was waiting for the EU to decide “what they want to do”.
MPs are expected on Monday to consider the prime minister’s call for an early general election.
Mr Johnson said he wants to hold one on 12 December, if the EU offers a Brexit delay until 31 January.
But the chances of enough MPs backing the motion – which requires the support of two-thirds of the House of Commons – appear uncertain, with Labour not committing to how it plans to vote.
Leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was only prepared to agree to an election once the PM had completely ruled out “to my satisfaction” the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.
“My position is we’ve got to get no-deal taken off the table first,” he told ITV’s This Morning programme.
“Providing the prime minister comes to Parliament on Monday and makes it absolutely clear he is going to make sure that there is no crash out – because his deal includes the possibility of a no-deal exit… if he comes on Monday and says that, then OK,” he added.
Mr Johnson has said his “preferred option” is a short Brexit postponement to “say to 15 or 30 November”.
Following the Brussels meeting, he again urged Mr Corbyn to vote for a snap poll, calling on him to “man up” and agree to his election proposal.
“Nobody will believe that the Labour Party is really going to allow Brexit to happen unless there is a deadline of an election on 12 December,” he said.
On Thursday, the government had appeared to threaten a halt to all but essential Commons business if Parliament refused to vote for an election.
However, on Friday a Downing Street spokesperson said that this would only apply to Brexit legislation, and that otherwise the prime minister would continue pursuing his “dynamic and ambitious” domestic agenda “with full vigour” even if MPs do not vote for an election.