February 26, 2019 / 12:57 PM / 8 months ago

UPDATE 3-Brexit: Luxembourg says UK could nominate MEPs to facilitate new referendum

(Adds background on EU legal experts sceptical)

By Tom Miles

GENEVA, Feb 26 (Reuters) - The European Union should back any decision by Britain to hold a second Brexit referendum and could smooth the path by allowing it to nominate MEPs rather than participate in May’s European Parliament elections, Luxembourg’s foreign minister said.

Speaking in Geneva on Tuesday, Jean Asselborn said any such arrangement would need to be short-term and agreed in advance, and that if Britain stayed longer in the EU, elections for British MEPs would need to be held.

Such an arrangement has been discussed by lawyers for the European Parliament and other EU institutions, since countries which join the bloc may nominate MEPs to sit immediately after accession if they have not yet held an EU election. But senior officials have said applying such a device to a country that is already a member would present major legal difficulties.

Asselborn told Reuters that any second referendum was likely to shift the Brexit timetable back by six months or more, pushing the current departure date of March 29 far beyond the elections to the European Parliament.

“We can find solutions. If there is a second referendum I think you’re looking at least six months, if not more, so there is a possibility to designate British members of the European Parliament for a very short period,” he said.

“It’s not impossible. It’s a problem but it’s not going to be a stumbling block.”

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told Reuters that there were many possibilities, including a delay, but what was really needed was a roadmap setting out what Britain wanted.

“If it’s just to prolong the result ... it’s more difficult,” he told Reuters.

British Prime Minister Theresa May offered lawmakers on Tuesday the chance to vote in two weeks for a potentially disorderly no-deal Brexit or to delay Britain’s exit from the EU if her attempt to ratify a divorce agreement fails.

Asselborn, who was in Geneva to address the U.N. Human Rights Council, said the EU needed to show that it was open to all proposals that avoided a disastrous no-deal Brexit.

“Brussels can’t do everything. But what Brussels can do is, at this point, to encourage a second referendum, if that’s the path we go down, and then if there is a second referendum, to show that it’s open.”

He said he had heard that one of the options under discussion was a two-year delay, but it was up to the British to make a decision on which path to take.

Asselborn said the 2016 referendum in which Britons voted narrowly to leave the EU was “tainted with untruths” which had been since revealed to be false. He said there was now a strong trend among the British population, as well as in business and finance circles, to prevent Brexit.

“If there is a second referendum I think the British people will be able to really measure the consequences of this split with the EU,” Asselborn said.

“So this could be a second chance. Why not?” (Reporting by Tom Miles Editing by Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich)

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