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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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THE UK AND EU have agreed a ‘flexible’ Brexit extension until 31 October after a marathon summit. 

Here’s how the negotiations played out. 

Well, here we all are again. 

“I sometimes have the feeling that I’m in the waiting room waiting for Godot, and Godot is never coming,” Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel mused, last time we had an EU summit

Believe it or not, that was less than three weeks ago. 

We may still have to wait a while for a resolution to the Brexit crisis. But we’ll have some indication by tonight, at least, on quite how long we need we need to wait. 

Theresa May is due to arrive at the summit at around 4pm (Irish time). 

The summit starts at around 5. 

After that, May and her advisors will head off and dine on their own while the other 27 leaders discuss their position over dinner. 

We’re expecting an announcement and press conferences later in the evening (possibly late into the night).  

All times given in this liveblog will be Irish time for sake of clarity. 

May said the UK wants to leave the EU as soon as possible. 

She restated her position that she was seeking an extension until the end of June, but said the key point was that the UK must be able to leave when it has passed the withdrawal deal. 

Meanwhile Leo Varadkar has been attending a pre-summit meeting of nations most at risk of disruption from Brexit. 

So what are we expecting to happen this evening? 

In a letter last night, Tusk set out a number of conditions that the UK would have to agree to, before the EU would grant an extension. 

They include:

  • no re-opening of the Withdrawal Agreement;
  • no start of the negotiations on the future, except for the Political Declaration;
  • the UK would have to maintain its sincere cooperation also during this crucial period, in a manner that reflects its situation as a departing member state. We should remember, however, that the United Kingdom will remain a member state with full rights and obligations. And, in any event, the UK can revoke Article 50 at any time, as stated by the European Court of Justice.

If the EU 27 agree to an extension, there will be further talks between Labour and Theresa May about how to get the Withdrawal Agreement through parliament, and Brexit done.

If there is no agreement between the UK and the EU, then we’re looking at a no-deal Brexit on Friday or a revocation of Article 50. 

In a piece just posted on the Sky News website, that channel’s political correspondent Tamara Cohen observes that the EU is now firmly in the driving seat when it comes to the Brexit timetable. 

If May manages to come away from Brussels with just a short extension, Cohen notes, the momentum could stay with the Downing St-Labour talks. 

“If they fail, she has said there would be a process in Parliament for MPs to hold binding votes on different Brexit options, including possibly her deal for a fourth time.

“There is no guarantee, as we saw with indicative votes last month, that these would yield a majority for anything.”

Cohen continues: 

“The exit doors are closing, and the EU is now in full control of the timetable.

“Mrs May promised to leave office if Brexit was delivered. If there is a long extension, and divisions sharpened by European elections, many Tories say she won’t get that far.”

You can read the full piece below. 

Varadkar said he was very confident an extension would be agreed but noted that the length of the extension and the conditions attached were still up for discussion.

He said he had an open mind over the length but that the key thing leaders would want to know from Theresa May is “what the plan is”.

He said May would speak first at the summit, making a presentation and taking questions from the other 27 leaders. 

Macron and Merkel have also arrived in Brussels. 

The French President, asked about the extension, told reporters “nothing should be taken for granted”.

He said nothing was certain about the decision and that the EU needed to know why an extension was being sought. 

Merkel said she would listen to Theresa May’s pitch to EU leaders openly and constructively, and that it was ”very important” that any extension would involve the UK preparing to hold EU elections. 

This picture from chief political photographer of the Press Association Stefan Rousseau sums up the whole situation pretty well… 

Brexit Source: Stefan Rousseau

The summit is now under way. 

AFP has filed full details of those Macron comments, from his arrival: 

French President Emmanuel Macron warned Wednesday as he arrived at Brexit crisis talks in Brussels that EU leaders have yet to agree on how long to delay Britain’s departure.

“For me, nothing is decided, nothing, and in particular, since I hear rumours, not a long extension,” he said, as leaders met to consider Prime Minister Theresa May’s request for a postponement.

May has asked for Brexit to be delayed from Friday to June 30, to allow her more time to ratify Britain’s orderly divorce, and other EU leaders arriving in Brussels suggested she could have even longer.

But Macron has been keen to project a tougher stance, insisting May must provide more guarantees that the delay would serve a purpose and that London’s crisis will not disrupt EU business.

“For me, nothing is given,” he said. “We need to understand why this demand is being made, what is the political plan behind it and what proposals are clear. For my part, I’ll hold to that.

“I’m looking forward very much to hearing Theresa May,” he said. “The time for decisions is now.” 

A late, late show in prospect.

This is from the BBC’s political editor: 

And according to Donald Tusk’s spokesman:

Merkel, May and Tusk have been sharing actual LOLs ahead of the summit meeting. 

The German Chancellor showed the other leaders something on her iPad as they gathered, with apparent hilarity ensuing. 

What were they all looking at?

The internet being the internet, this is already a meme.

Here’s our guess…

ice

May has finished her pitch to the other leaders and Q&A session, according to Tusk’s spokesman. 

Here’s the early word on how it went from the Europe Editor at BuzzFeed News:

So what’s happening now is the 27 leaders of the remaining nations will discuss their options over dinner. 

May and her advisors will head off elsewhere in the building to dine. 

Last time around, Donald Tusk acted as mediator – shuttling between the two locations with updates and proposals. 

There weren’t any official announcements until very late at night on that occasion, you may recall.

Not strictly Brexit-related, but the always entertaining Michael Crick has announced he’s leaving Channel 4 News. 

Back in 2012 he offered this encouragement to a bemused Enda Kenny as the then-Taoiseach carried out a less-than-enthusiastic canvass of voters at Pearse St.

Shouldn’t you be diving in there and saying hello. Bertie Ahern would have been right in there. You’re missing all these opportunities to persuade them.

Source: OireachtasRetortTV/YouTube

The iPad mystery has been solved.

So, this: 

Prime Minister's Questions Source: ??????????????

Bundestag Source: DPA/PA Images

Sure look, whatever floats their boat.

Read into that selection what you will.

May has reportedly left the building for dinner and is expected back later. 

Some reports around now on what’s being discussed between the remaining 27 leaders.

The Guardian’s Daniel Boffey says Merkel and Macron are at odds over the length of the proposed extension – with the German leader advocating one until the end of the year and the French president seeking a much, much shorter one till just before the EU elections. 

The BBC’s Adam Fleming reports that no date has been entered in the draft document yet. 

Fleming says a paragraph of the draft agreement has been changed to specify the UK’s role in the European decision-making process and that lines have been added stipulating that other EU countries can meet without the UK present when Brexit-related issues are being discussed. 

The 27 leaders are meeting without advisors as they decide what to do, with notetakers only present to record the minutes of the meeting.

May’s pitch to the EU 27 went better than last time around, according to Dave Clark of AFP. 

Meanwhile, more here on what’s being added to the draft by EU leaders.

The German government has confirmed Angela Merkel’s mother has died. 

“Herlind Kasner, the mother of the chancellor, has died,” a spokesman said.

The former Latin and English teacher likely died earlier this month at the age of 90, according to the Bild newspaper and SuperIllu magazine.

She gave birth to the future Chancellor in Hamburg in 1954, moving to the former East Germany just weeks later with her daughter and husband.

From Sky’s Beth Rigby: 

More on that from Jennifer Rankin of The Guardian: 

And from AFP’s Damon Wake: 

Several senior politicians, including Leo Varadkar and Theresa May, have noted today is the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

If you’re on the hunt for some bedtime reading, here’s our explainer from last year on the agreement (what’s in it, how it came about), and here’s an interesting piece on lower level, long running talks between community leaders that took place at Glencree in Co Wicklow as part of the peace process.

I imagine this would be well worth a listen too: 

From James Rothwell of the Telegraph, on that apparent Macron v everyone else dynamic. 

Macron is yet to speak at the EU 27 meeting and may choose to go last, according to Deborah Haynes of Sky News. 

Macron sticking to that hard line, according to Buzzfeed News Europe Editor Alberto Nardelli: 

Our political correspondent Christina Finn reports: 

“At tonight’s Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said solidarity among the European Union countries on Brexit was stronger than it has ever been.

“Coveney said he expects an extension will be granted to the UK this week. He told party colleagues that all needed to remain patient.”

BBC News correspondent Chris Morris is reporting that Macron has asked for a paragraph to be added to the draft which would commit the UK to ”uphold the rules and behave” if they remain on temporarily. 

Morris notes that language may change before anything is made official. 

Macron was the main voice calling for a shorter extension, according to Morris, while the Austrian chancellor also backed a short extension. 

And from the BBC’s Katya Adler: 

A question worth asking.

Macron may need to be talked down from his tree apparently. 

Meanwhile, reporters in Brussels entered the football watching phase of proceedings some time ago…

Ain’t no sign of that unanimity, according to the BBC’s Europe editor. 

It’s nearly midnight in Brussels. 

coffee

Looks like May is heading back in. 

Progress? 

Looks like 31 October may be the new date for the extension, with a review in June. 

If this is agreed between the EU 27 and Theresa May we can expect official announcements to be made soon followed, hopefully, by press conferences. 

From the BBC’s political editor: 

From the Prime Minister of Malta, confirming the Halloween date: 

Here at home, there’s speculation over what the Halloween date might mean for the timing of an Irish election. 

Does it mean it’s unlikely to happen this year – or could we have a snap poll in the next few months? 

Tory backbenchers are already rattling their sabres. 

From Christopher Hope of the Telegraph: 

A good summary of the night so far just posted by AFP (below). That 31 October date is yet to be made official and as always the usual warning applies: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. 

European leaders offered Britain a six-month delay to its Brexit departure Thursday, apparently saving the continent from a chaotic no-deal departure at the end of the week.

If May accepts the extension and London remains in the EU after May 22, British voters will have to take part in European parliamentary elections.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron was the strongest voice opposing a long extension, but most leaders backed it and the French had to settle for a promise that the delay will be reviewed at an EU summit on June 21.

“EU27 has agreed an extension of Art. 50. I will now meet PM @theresa_may for the UK government’s agreement,” summit host and EU Council president Donald Tusk tweeted as May returned to the summit to give her verdict on the plan.

Most of the 27 European leaders gathered in Brussels, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, had backed a plan for Brexit to be postponed for up to a year.

But as the talks went late into the night, Macron — with backing from Belgium, Austria and some smaller EU states — held out for a short delay of only a few weeks and demanded solid guarantees that London would not interfere in EU business during that time.

May has already said that if Britain is still an EU member when the European parliamentary election begins on May 23, UK voters will take part. But some EU leaders are unconvinced that she is sincere, despite one official telling reporters her presentation had been “solid”.

Without a postponement, Britain would be due to end its 46-year membership of the European Union at midnight (2200 GMT) on Friday with no deal, risking economic chaos on both sides of the Channel.

May agreed a divorce deal with the EU last November but MPs in London have rejected it three times, forcing her to turn to the main opposition Labour party in a bid to find a way through.

In the UK, council elections are taking place on 2 May. 

Sky’s Beth Rigby reckons the pressure will build on the prime minister to quit after that date. 

Some minor tweaks still being made, says ITV’s Paul Brand. We could be here for a while yet. 

Read our full report on developments so far, here.

Tusk and Juncker have been speaking to the media. 

The European Council President said the Brexit process was now in the UK’s hands, and that a range of options remained available to it. 

The UK will remain a full member of the EU with all the rights that that entails. 

Tusk says the extension is as flexible as he expected if a little shorter than he expected. 

He ends his initial address by speaking directly to the UK, appealing that its politicians don’t waste the time they’ve been granted. 

Juncker says EU meetings may take place without UK representatives present to discuss Brexit related matters. 

In response to any accusations that leaders are setting up a system whereby some members are being treated differently, he says there’s a precedent for this – a separate group of nations was set up when negotiations to establish the Euro were taking place. 

On the fact that EU elections must take place in the UK he admits it’s “a bit odd” but offers: “rules are rules”. 

The flexible nature of the deal has been clarified. 

Tusk asked about the decision making process tonight: We are united enough to have a common conclusion. It doesn’t mean all member states had the same position but we were able to reach a compromise. 

He jokes (in a tone bordering on ‘mirthless’) that it’s easier to agree on things in Brussels than it is in Westminster. 

Theresa May will give a press conference shortly. 

Theresa May has started her address. 

May says the options the UK now faces are stark. She will make an address to the Commons tomorrow (today) and those talks with Labour will recommence. 

The BBC asks a question about May’s recent statement that she would not countenance keeping the UK in the union beyond the 30 June. 

May insists the UK can still leave before that date. 

May is asked about the various missed deadlines. 

She again points out that the withdrawal agreement has been resoundingly rejected three times and insists she will redouble her efforts to get it ratified. 

may1 Source: Sky News

She insisted her “key request” had been granted – that the extension could be terminated if the Withdrawal Agreement passed. 

Approaching 3am in Brussels (I’m in Dublin, but still) we’ll end our liveblog there. 

This piece will be updated shortly with all the detail from the press conferences. 

Goodnight and … happy Halloween? 

halloween

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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