EU could agree to extend Brexit talks to avoid ‘no deal’, says Austria’s Kurz

Austria's Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz at the European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 23 March 2018. [EPA-EFE/JULIEN WARNAND]

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has mooted the prospect of EU leaders agreeing to extend Article 50 talks with the UK in a bid to avoid a ‘no deal’ Brexit that analysts say would have a serious negative impact on the economy on both sides of the Channel.

Kurz, whose country took over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU on Sunday, told reporters in Vienna on Thursday (5 July) that he would be “in favour of extending the negotiations instead of having a hard Brexit” and added that “our goal is to reach an agreement with the UK but if it is not possible, it is good to keep negotiating”.

He added that “it is important to speak for one voice but we should not penalise the UK for its decision (to leave the bloc),” and that “political and economic relations should remain smooth”.

“We will see,” he responded when challenged if this would mean extending Article 50.

Prime Minister Theresa May triggered a two-year deadline for the UK’s formal exit from the EU in March 2017, nine months after Britons voted to leave the bloc by a 52-48% margin.

However, the lack of progress in the talks, particularly over the Northern Irish border and the nature of future EU-UK trade relations, has allowed the idea of extending of the talks to gain more currency in both London and Brussels.

Last week, MPs on the UK Parliament’s Exiting the EU committee said May’s government should consider extending Article 50 to avoid the risks posed by a “no-deal” exit. MPs warned that the rapidly approaching deadline would mean that Mrs May would have no time to return to the negotiating table if MPs voted to reject the EU Withdrawal agreement.

Most economic analysts suggest that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would have a biggest negative hit on the UK and EU-27 economies. Extending Article 50 would also give legal teams in London and Brussels more time to adapt the EU’s international trade agreements without the UK.

Any decision to extend Article 50 would require the agreement of EU heads of government, however, and the UK government’s legal service opposes the move, EURACTIV understands.

Kurz’s remarks came ahead of a crunch meeting of May’s senior ministers at her country retreat at Chequers on Friday (6 July) where she hopes to obtain a mandate on post-Brexit customs relations with the EU.

May is expected to propose a new plan, described as a “facilitated customs arrangement” to ease trade and offer Britain more freedom to set tariffs after Brexit, to her ministers in a bid to breathe life back into the talks.

Britain's May to propose new customs plan to divided government

Prime Minister Theresa May will propose on Friday (6 July) a new plan to ease trade and offer Britain more freedom to set tariffs after Brexit, in a last-ditch attempt to unite her divided government on plans to leave the European Union.

“It’s a pity that Great Britain is leaving the EU,” Gernot Blümel, Austria’s EU affairs minister, told reporters in Vienna. However, he insisted that member states would remain united.

“We are really going to make an effort to keep this unity up and I know that Great Britain is trying to bypass some negotiations because different countries have different issues but it is necessary that we keep up this unity of 27 and I hope we can find a conclusion at the set date in October,” he said.

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