Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage said on Wednesday (13 March) he will lobby EU countries to make sure one of them vetoes a possible extension of Article 50 past the 29 March deadline.
“I have stated already. I will do my best to obtain a veto,” Farage, who is now a member of the Brexit Party, told the BBC’s Andrew Neil, while the Commons were voting to rule out a no- deal Brexit.
Indeed, an extension of Article 50 can only be taken with unanimity, and the veto of one country is enough to block it.
Farage, who is still an MEP and was speaking from Strasbourg, said he never trusted the British political class to honour the 2016 Brexit referendum and that he was “preparing for some time” for this type of scenario.
After the Commons voted against no-deal Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May said she would ask for “a short, limited technical extension”, but warned that in the absence of support by parliament “there will need to be a much longer extension” to the 29 March departure date.
May is expected to make the request for an extension at the 21-22 March summit.
“If at 4 o’clock in the morning, on 22 March, our request to extend Article 50 has been vetoed, seems to me, we will be leaving with no deal, whatever our career political class think,” Farage opined.
Brexiteers fear that if the UK does not leave on 29 March, with or without a deal, there is a strong likelihood that the process will drag on for years or even that Article 50 would be revoked.
Asked if he had been counting on Italy’s Matteo Salvini to block the extension, Farage said he would not “name names right now” but the body language of the former UKIP leader was clearly affirmative.
Salvini, the leader of the far-right Lega, is a deputy prime minister so will not attend the EU summit next week, where Italy is represented by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Salvini is nevertheless the strongest figure in the Italian government.
EU countries are likely to agree an extension or Article 50 until just before the 23-26 May European elections. In contrast, a longer extension is very risky for the EU. Under EU law, the UK is obliged to conduct European elections if technically it is still a member of the Union in the 23-26 May period.
If the UK obtains a long extension and British lawmakers decide not to call elections and not to elect MEPs, all decisions made by the European Parliament could be challenged in court as illegal.
Such a risk would be too big for the EU. This is why it is less likely that consensus could be found for a longer extension.
Apart from Salvini, Farage could count on “the usual suspects” among the troublemakers in the EU, Hungary and Poland.
Salvini’s Lega is likely to form an alliance with Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, and if Hungary’s Fidesz party is expelled on 20 March from the centre-right EPP group, it could join as well.
[Edited by Sam Morgan]