Michel Barnier says Brexit delay ‘unavoidable’ even if MPs back Theresa May’s deal
Michel Barnier has warned that a delay to Britain’s exit date from the European Union is “unavoidable,” even if MPs sign off Theresa May’s deal later this month.
The EU's chief negotiator said a “technical extension” of up to two months beyond the 29 March deadline would be needed, in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
His deputy Sabine Weyand later 'liked' a tweet which summarised his comments in English as translating to: "Extension now inavoidable [sic] - will be granted."
Mr Barnier added that an extension “would be justified” if MPs backed the deal on 12 March in order to “carry out the procedure”.
The intervention comes after the Prime Minister agreed to give MPs a vote on extending Article 50 should she fail to get her deal through the Commons later this month.
Meanwhile, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom laid down a warning to colleagues they believe are moving to delay or block Article 50 altogether.
“The active pursuit of a delay to Brexit - with no purpose beyond frustration - is a betrayal of the referendum result,” they said.
“It would lead to an irretrievable breach of trust with those who are already cynical about the will of Westminster to deliver on the result to begin with.”
Their intervention came after reports that Ms Leadsom blasted her Cabinet colleagues Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark last week for arguing in favour of a delay.
The duo also warned the European Union that it would be making a "profound mistake" if it refused to concede some ground on the Northern Ireland backstop.
The mechanism - which would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU after the post-Brexit transition period if no alternative to maintaining an open Irish border had been found – has proven the major sticking point in winning MPs over to the the PM's agreement so far.