BRUSSELS: Germany, France, Luxembourg and the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier favoured a shorter delay to Britain’s departure from the bloc in talks on the eve of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels, a document seen by Reuters showed.
EU leaders meeting on Wednesday are set to grant Britain a second delay to Brexit but have not yet decided how long this new extension should be.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has asked for an extension until June 30. Summit chair Donald Tusk favours a longer, flexible Brexit delay of up to 12 months.
EU ministers on Tuesday were divided on the duration of the extension, the document shows.
Those backing a shorter respite for Britain said it would keep up pressure on the divided British parliament to ratify the withdrawal agreement May reached with the EU in November.
Germany was among those expressing support for a shorter extension at the meeting in Luxembourg, the document shows.
That appeared to contrast with what German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the German parliament on Wednesday when she favoured an extension of “several months”.
France also supported a shorter extension at that meeting, in line with its harder line on Brexit.
At the meeting, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic preferred a longer postponement, saying it could scare Brexit supporters in Britain into backing May’s exit deal over fears Britain might otherwise never leave the EU.
“Almost all delegations expressed an openness to an extension,” the document says, “but many attached clear conditions”, including a credible exit plan to be submitted by May.
The extension should be “commensurate” to the purpose that it plans to serve, EU ministers said, according to the document.
At the meeting, Barnier also said should the United Kingdom opt for a customs union with the EU after Brexit, it would solve the problem of customs checks on the Irish border, but industry regulation checks would still be required.
Union leaders will grant Prime Minister Theresa May a second delay to Brexit at an emergency summit on Wednesday but will argue over how long and on what terms as they struggle to end Britain’s troublesome membership.
French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing to withhold any commitment to extend Friday’s deadline much beyond elections to the European Parliament on May 23-26 unless May binds herself, and any potentially more anti-EU successor, not to disrupt the workings of Brussels in the final months of Britain’s membership. — Reuters