The European Union has outlined three reasons for allowing Brexit to be delayed.
In a memo obtained by BuzzFeed News EU leaders will be advised that delaying Brexit will make sense in only three scenarios: to give more time to prepare for no deal, to complete ratification of the withdrawal agreement or if the UK decides to hold an election or a referendum.
The assessment comes as Theresa May was heavily defeated on her revised Brexit deal in parliament last night, lining up a vote on extending article 50 on Thursday.
But Mrs May warned: “Voting against leaving without a deal and for extension does not solve the problems we face.
“The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension and this House will have to answer that question.
“Does it wish to revoke Article 50, does it want to hold a second referendum, or does it want to leave with a deal but not this deal?
“These are unenviable choices that, thanks to the decision that the House has made this evening, must now be faced.”
According to the leaked documents, the EU is suggesting that an “extension makes only sense in three circumstances”, detailed below:
To give more time to prepare for no deal
It is unlikely Britain will be able to convince the EU to extend on this matter. MPs are expected to vote in favour of ruling out leaving the EU without a deal in tonight’s vote, and even if they vote against it the EU has no incentive to proceed on this front.
To complete ratification of the withdrawal agreement
The second scenario is even less likely to happen. The memo states bluntly, “We are not in this scenario.”
It adds: “we are prepared, why should we give more time, this would create a de facto transition period”.
“This would prolong uncertainty, reduce the value of the EU’s no deal preparations and endanger the political and institutional functioning of the EU at a time where it needs to be united and capable to act more than ever before.”
Election or referendum
There is, understandably, some willing on this point.
Senior EU officials note that article 50 could be extended for “political reasons”, specifically if the UK asked for time to organise a general election or a referendum.
It does warn, however, that in both these cases it is unclear what would be solved, and that a short — three- to four-month — extension would be insufficient. The UK would also have to organise European Parliament elections.
Several European politicians and ministers have openly called for a new vote on Brexit, hoping that the decision made by British voters in 2016 can be reversed.
Privately, however, a number of leaders, including Angela Merkel, believe a new vote will not solve much.
BuzzFeed News sources say the chancellor is of the view that a second referendum would create new uncertainty: nobody knows how it would end, Leave could win again, while a close Remain victory would leave Brexit voters feeling robbed, and could even see “yellow vest” type unrest in the UK.
“Brexit has to happen. Then in 10, 20 years, a new generation may want to rejoin,” the source said. “In the meantime, it’s important to have a ‘as close as possible relationship’ on everything.”