Breathing space for Westminster
As eyes now turn to Westminster where the debate over when to schedule an election moves centre stage, here is a recap as to what this morning’s development means in the grand scheme of things, via Jim Brunsden and Mehreen Khan in Brussels.
The EU has agreed to grant Britain a Brexit extension until January 31 2020, removing the risk of an imminent no-deal exit, and creating the political space for Westminster to decide on the timing of a general election.
National ambassadors from the EU27 have given their blessing to a “flextension” that could last as long as the end of January but that gives the UK the possibility to leave earlier if its withdrawal treaty has been ratified.
The decision means that Europe has granted a request made by the UK government earlier this month, after Boris Johnson was forced by parliament to seek a delay. The move also sounds the death knell for Mr Johnson’s bid to take Britain out of the EU “do or die” on October 31.
The deal on the extension was reached after a flurry of diplomatic activity over the weekend aimed at winning around France to the three month delay.
French president Emmanuel Macron pushed back last week against attempts by EU Council president Donald Tusk to rally countries behind the January 31 deadline. Paris argued that Britain had to explain clearly what it would do with an extension, and warned that pressure had to be kept up on the House of Commons to ratify Mr Johnson’s draft exit treaty.
“It’s true that France had a fairly tough position,” said one EU official. “But there is now the perspective of quick British elections, which changes the picture.”
So what happens now?
Mehreen Khan reports from Brussels:
With the EU27 giving political sign off to the extension, Brussels will now need a formal agreement from the UK on the deal.
Donald Tusk, EU council president, will then launch a so called “written procedure” to formally adopt the decision within 24 hours.
A senior EU official says it should all be done and dusted by tomorrow or Wednesday.
Tusk: Extension to be formalised by ‘written procedure’
European Council president Donald Tusk has indicated that the Brexit “flextension” will be formalised through a written procedure – meaning, as expected, EU leaders will not have to meet for a special summit in Brussels to sign off on it.
Mr Tusk tweeted:
Sterling unmoved by extension news
The pound did not react to the EU’s agreement to a Brexit extension, with the news widely expected by the markets.
Sterling stood at $1.2841 against the dollar directly following the announcement, up 0.2 per cent on the day. Against the euro it remained up 0.1 per cent at €1.1577.
Lib Dem leader Swinson awaits response on election date draft bill
Now that Brussels has agreed to an extension, all eyes turn to Westminster where Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, earlier today said she is waiting for a response from the prime minister on a one-page draft bill that sets an election date on December 9.
When asked if Boris Johnson were to put it forward as a government bill, would there be support from the Lib Dems and Scottish National party, Ms Swinson said: “Absolutely.”
“It is a simple bill, about calling an election, giving people confidence that that date will not be changed or mucked about with,” Ms Swinson said on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme.
“It ties the prime minister’s hands about the date of the election, it sets it in law so that it doesn’t give him the wriggle room that his plan would have whereby he can say it’s 12 December and then decide it’s actually going to be 1 February.”
Having an election on December 9 would be three days further away from Christmas, said Ms Swinson, and would help retailers since it would be easier to avoid any interference with shopping in the run-up to Christmas. It would also make it easier to vote for those who like students are on the move.
Downing Street has suggested Boris Johnson could support opposition plans this week to trigger an election on December 9, a move that would deny the prime minister the opportunity to get Brexit through parliament ahead of a snap poll.
EU leaders agree to flexible extension of Brexit date to January 2020
The EU27 has agreed to an extension request to the end of January 31, Mehreen Khan reports from Brussels.
All that’s left now is for EU27 capitals to officially sign off on the legal formalities of the extension, which is expected to be done within a couple of days.
Ambassadors agreed to the extension at a meeting lasting just under 20 minutes this morning. The crucial breakthrough happened over the weekend when France relented in its opposition.
The “flextension” means that, should the UK’s divorce deal make it through ratification in the UK parliament and the EU parliament before January 30, Brexit could happen on December 1 or January 1.
One EU ambassador told the Financial Times there was “little” discussion about the terms of the flextension at a brief meeting this morning. The issue of the UK needing to nominate a commissioner (which is mentioned in the draft text) did not come up.
In Brussels, all eyes will turn to the House of Commons this afternoon where Boris Johnson is planning to table a motion to trigger a general election.
Meeting of EU leaders on Brexit kicks off
The FT’s Mehreen Khan reports:
EU27 ambassadors have just begun a meeting in Brussels this morning where they are set to sign off on a Brexit extension to January 31. As the FT reported last night, France looks to have relented to its opposition to three-month prolongation of the Article 50 negotiations after a phone call between Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson over the week.
EU officials expect the extension will be approved in a closed-doors meeting and completed by a “written procedure”.
‘Toxic’ tweets aimed at MPs soar after Johnson outburst
In case you missed it, the FT published the following analysis at the weekend:
The level of vitriol targeted at MPs in messages posted on social media site Twitter rose sharply during and after a heated parliamentary debate in which Boris Johnson was accused of using “inflammatory” language the day after his historic Supreme Court defeat.
According to an analysis by the Financial Times of more than 2m tweets surrounding the debate, during which the British prime minister described death threats against politicians as “humbug”, there was a direct correlation between the language used in parliament and the volume of “toxic” tweets from both sides of the Brexit divide.
The most abusive were those that mentioned the Brexit party or other hard Brexit-related terms in their user description. The FT’s research backs up the warning on Sunday by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, that Mr Johnson’s “inflammatory language” risks “pouring petrol” on Britain’s Brexit divisions.
Sterling gains ground ahead of big day for Brexit
The pound edged upwards early on Monday morning as traders braced themselves for a further Brexit extension being granted by the EU.
Sterling was up 0.3 per cent against the dollar at $1.2854 and added 0.1 per cent against the euro to €1.1584 .
The UK currency has been boosted this month as fears of a no-deal Brexit have evaporated, rising 4.6 per cent against the dollar and putting it on track for its best month since January 2018.
“The effective elimination of the tail risk associated with a no-deal Brexit has lifted sterling and other European currencies, although the upside seems more limited in the near term, in our view,” said analysts at Barclays.
“The uncertainty associated with an (eventual) General Election is likely to weigh on the pound though it appears likely that the PM has the necessary momentum to pass the withdrawal agreement bill, even if the EU grants an A50-extension.”
Underlining the receding fears of the UK crashing out, speculators in the futures market reduced their bets that the pound will fall by $1.6bn to $4.2bn in the week to last Tuesday, according to Goldman Sachs calculations based on CFTC data. The futures market represents a small sliver over the vast foreign exchange market – but investors see it as a useful proxy of sentiment.
“Overall, the flows were consistent with the reduction in risk of a no deal Brexit outcome, given that net flows into euro and sterling were both large and positive, while net flows into yen were negative,” noted analysts at Goldman Sachs.
What’s coming up? Today’s docket
Here’s a look at the House of Commons order paper for today. The key item is Boris Johnson’s move to trigger elections on December 12. Debate is expected to begin at 3.30pm London time, meaning a vote could be as early as 5pm. Notably, though, urgent questions could push this timetable back.
Good morning: get ready for a busy day
Hello and welcome back to the FT’s Brexit live blog. There’s lots of news expected today on both sides of the Channel.
In Brussels, EU leaders are expected to agree a flexible extension to the UK’s Brexit date from October 31 to the end of January. The breakthrough comes as France has dropped its objection to such a lengthy delay after President Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, spoke by phone at the weekend.
French officials predicted there would “very probably” be an agreement on Monday, the FT’s Brussels team reported on Sunday.
On the UK front, MPs will debate Boris Johnson’s motion to trigger an election on December 12 beginning at 3.30pm London time. Debate is scheduled for 90 minutes, meaning a vote could take place as soon as 5pm.
Mr Johnson is using the 2011 Fixed-Term Parliaments Act in his bid to call elections. That piece of legislation will require him to garner support from two-thirds of the House of Commons, or 434 MPs, meaning Labour will have to get on-board. Currently, that looks unlikely, although it could be subject to change if Brussels agrees to a ‘flextension’ on the Brexit date.
A one-page bill drawn up by the Liberal Democrats, seeking an election on December 9, appears more likely to succeed. This would only require a simple majority and it appears Mr Johnson could back that measure.
Stick around here for all the updates.
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