By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union will on Monday “most likely” agree to delay Britain’s departure from the European Union until Jan.31, said a source close to French President Emmanuel Macron who last week prevented the bloc from reaching a decision on the delay.
The French comment should unlock an agreement among the 27 EU countries staying on together after Brexit just three days before Britain would otherwise be due to leave.
The 27 national envoys to Brussels meet at 0900 GMT with diplomats and officials hoping that the decision would be smooth.
“There will most likely be an agreement on Monday morning between the 27 on extension until January 31,” the source said, adding that came after Macron spoke to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the weekend.
“The prospect of elections has strengthened significantly over the weekend,” the source added, stressing the third postponement of Brexit would come with conditions. They include a refusal to renegotiate Johnson’s divorce agreement and giving a green light to the 27 other EU countries to meet without Britain to discuss the bloc’s future.
Johnson’s government on Sunday stepped up pressure on Britain’s lawmakers to back early election to break the impasse on Brexit three years after Britons voted to leave the EU.
A Downing Street source said the government would consider options including those proposed by opposition parties, after the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Liberal Democrats (LD) said they wanted a new poll on Dec.9.
“We’re hoping it will be smooth,” an EU official said on Monday. “Sounds like the LD/SNP thing over the weekend gave them (the French) comfort an election was on its way.”
EU diplomats told Reuters on Sunday the third Brexit delay would come with earlier departure dates possible should Britain’s parliament ratify the separation deal.
The plan envisages that Britain could also be out on Dec.1 or Jan.1 should parliament ratify the agreement in November or December, respectively, according to diplomats in Brussels.
Should all the ambassadors agree, there will be a short period — less than 24 hours and possibly as little as several hours — during which national capitals could still object. If no issues are raised, the decision will have been taken.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Jon Boyle)