An international logistics expert has said an extension to the UK’s Article 50 process would be the best plausible major Brexit development this week for the country’s EU traders.
Adam Johnson, director of Leeds-based Tudor International Freight, said Prime Minister Theresa May had asked other EU heads of government to grant a further deferral of the UK’s withdrawal date to 30 June, when they meet in Brussels on Wednesday (10 April). She had, however, also requested the option to leave before then if a withdrawal agreement could be ratified earlier.
Mr Johnson said failure to agree such an extension would almost inevitably mean the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal, the legal default outcome, on Friday (12 April), which would prove chaotic and damaging for the country’s EU traders and its economy overall.
He explained: “At their previous meeting last month, the other EU leaders agreed to delay our departure to this Friday if the House of Commons failed to approve the draft withdrawal deal, published last November, by our original exit date of 29 March. The house then rejected the agreement decisively for a third time.
“Following this, European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker said a short further extension would only be considered if the Commons passed the withdrawal agreement by the end of this week. If that didn’t happen, a further Brexit delay may be possible, but the UK would then have to take part in the European Parliament elections starting on 23 May.
“Mr Junker’s statement was apparently reinforced last week by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council. He mooted a so-called ‘flextension’, under which the UK would remain an EU member for up to a further year but could leave earlier if a withdrawal agreement was ratified during that period.”
Mr Johnson said the granting of the delay Mrs May had just requested was not a formality, however.
He said: “For one thing, the other 27 leaders have to agree any extension unanimously and there are increasing signs that at least some of them are now fed up with the UK Parliament’s inability to decide what it wants on the Brexit issue.
“This must mean there’s more chance than before of them simply deciding to cut us adrift, despite the damage a no-deal Brexit would do to their economies, as well as ours, and the problems it would create over the Irish border, for example.”
Mr Johnson said other EU leaders had also warned that the Prime Minister would have to provide a significant justification for her extension request and were aware that there were few signs of imminent consensus in the UK.
He said: “They know Mrs May has belatedly involved the Labour leadership in talks about the withdrawal arrangements, but there are substantial differences between them. These include over questions such as whether we should maintain a permanent customs union with the EU and many senior opposition figures, unlike the Prime Minister, also favour a confirmatory public vote, for example.
“The other EU leaders are also aware that although Mrs May has suggested binding indicative votes by MPs if these talks fail, two rounds of similar balloting have so far produced no majorities for any options.”
Mr Johnson said the Prime Minister was apparently still hopeful the UK could leave the EU in an orderly way without having to take part in the European Parliament elections. However, participating would be well worthwhile if it helped to avert the horrors of a cliff-edge exit.
He said: “Further evidence of the catastrophic effects a no-deal departure would have on the UK has emerged in recent days. The Cabinet Secretary has reportedly advised ministers that this would bring a worse recession than the one following the 2008 financial crash, pressure on the government to bail out companies reliant on trading with the EU, which would be facing collapse, and price rises of up to 10 per cent, among other consequences.
“The UK’s EU traders should therefore be crossing their fingers that Mrs May will obtain an extension of the Article 50 process from the bloc’s other leaders this week. Whether a delay to 30 June will prove long enough for an agreement to be put in place remains to be seen but, to amend one of her regular past sayings, a deal would almost certainly be better than no deal, and more time is clearly needed for one to be finalised.”
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