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26/08/2016

EU ‘postpones’ summit coinciding with British referendum

UK & Europe

EU ‘postpones’ summit coinciding with British referendum

David Cameron at 17 March summit [Council]

The British referendum on whether to leave the European Union has prompted Brussels officials to plan postponing an EU summit scheduled on the same day, several EU sources told Reuters.

The regular June meeting of the European Council, the heads of state and government of the 28 member states, would convene on Monday and Tuesday, 27-28 June, a four-day delay, one said, although that was yet to be confirmed by all the participants.

European Council officials had no official comment.

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Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron scheduled the “Brexit” referendum for 23 June – British elections are always on Thursdays – meaning that the result would be known just as leaders were finishing dinner on the first day of a summit long scheduled for 23-24 June.

By delaying the Council, officials hope to ensure that the other leaders are able to take considered decisions in response to the referendum result. Opinion polls are tight as Cameron seeks to persuade Britons of the value of EU membership.

A vote to leave would strike a heavy blow at a Union already in crisis, depriving it of its second biggest economy. It would start a process of negotiation with London on the terms of a new relationship in trade and others areas likely to last for years.

If the British vote to leave the EU, it is not clear in what capacity David Cameron would attend, and if he would be allowed at all the sessions. Technically the UK would still be a EU member as of 27-28 June, but in the perspective of Brexit, EU leaders would need to discuss the aftermath in his absence.

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Background

During his campaign for re-election in 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union and organise a referendum to decide whether or not Britain should remain in the 28-member bloc.

The British PM said he will campaign for Britain to remain in the EU after a two-day summit in Brussels where he obtained concessions from the 27 other EU leaders to give Britain “special status” in the EU.

But EU leaders had their red lines, and ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.

The decision on whether to stay or go could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.

The campaign will be bitterly contested in a country with a long tradition of euroscepticism and a hostile right-wing press, with opinion polls showing Britons are almost evenly divided.

Timeline

  • 23 June: Referendum.
  • 27-28 June : EU summit.
  • July-December 2017: United Kingdom holds rotating EU Council Presidency.