EU would agree to Brexit delay, says German minister

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Merkel ally Peter Altmaier says ‘it goes without saying’ Brexit extension would be granted.

Germany’s economic affairs minister has said “it goes without saying” that a Brexit extension beyond 31 October would be granted as plans for the European parliament to vote on the deal this week look likely to be put on hold.

Peter Altmaier, a key ally of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said he believed a technical extension to allow extra time for legislation to pass, or a longer period to accommodate a general election or second referendum would be offered.

“We have already twice agreed to an extension. I have repeatedly said as my own opinion I am not ideologically opposed to extending again a few days or a few weeks if you then certainly get a good solution that excludes a hard Brexit,” Altmaier said.

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“If the British are to opt for one of the longer-term options, that is new elections or a new referendum, then it goes without saying that the European Union should do it, for me anyway.”

The likelihood of an extension beyond 31 October was heightened when senior MEPs said a scheduled European parliament vote on the deal on Thursday would be suspended in light of developments in the Commons.

In the run-up to a formal decision on the timing of the vote, due to take place on Monday evening, the leader of the Green party in the chamber, Philippe Lamberts, said MEPs would only vote once the Commons had given its approval. The next scheduled sitting of the parliament is 14 November, although it is possible the parliament could arrange an extraordinary sitting for next week.

On Saturday, the Commons voted to withhold its approval until all the legislation relating to the withdrawal agreement bill has been passed. The prime minister subsequently complied with the Benn act by sending three letters on Saturday evening to ask the EU to provide for a delay beyond 31 October.

Alongside an unsigned photocopy of the request he was obliged to send under the Benn act, there was an explanatory letter from the UK’s ambassador to the EU and a personal letter from Boris Johnson explaining why Downing Street thought a further delay would be corrosive.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said the request had been formally received and the European council president, Donald Tusk, was consulting with the heads of state and government on how they would answer back.

The spokeswoman added that the EU’s ratification processes had been launched in preparation for approval by the Commons.

“The request to extend article 50 was made by the UK’s permanent representative to the EU,” the spokeswoman said. “President Tusk acknowledged receipt of the request on Saturday and stated that he was now consulting with the EU27, so this form does not change anything.”

Speaking to the German radio station Deutschlandfunk, Altmaier said the onus was on Downing Street to provide clarity on the next steps as soon as possible for Brexit to be possible on 31 October.

“What we need is clarity and we need it quickly,” Altmaier said. “In recent months we have repeatedly taken into account the difficult situation in the UK. At the moment, the hardest part is that we do not know who actually speaks for this country: is it the government or is it the elected parliament? Both represent different positions.

“The government would like to quit on 31 October; parliament has requested a delay. This is a very difficult topic now. We will talk about this with our European partners.”