BRUSSELS (Reuters) - France said on Friday that Britain would crash out of the European Union on April 12 if it fails to ratify the Brexit withdrawal agreement and present a new plan, putting it at odds with other member states which adopted a softer stance.
President Emmanuel Macron has been the most forthright among EU leaders in wanting to draw a line under Britain’s Brexit crisis quickly to refocus on pushing forward the bloc’s agenda. Some, including Germany, have instead stressed the need to make every effort to ensure a chaotic exit is avoided.
A day after EU leaders in Brussels handed Britain a final chance to leave the bloc in an orderly fashion, disagreement broke out over the definitive deadline.
Under Thursday’s deal, May 22 will be the departure date if the British parliament finally approves next week Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement after twice resoundingly rejecting it. If it does not, Britain must present a new plan by April 12 or leave the EU without a treaty.
An official in Macron’s office said there would be no further extensions, even to implement the exit: “No, April 12 is the leave date.” European Commission officials said that April 12 was “the new March 29th” — the previous exit date.
Others said the summit conclusions were not so clear-cut.
“If there is no indication that they are going to run European elections... there is no ability to extend further,” Irish European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee said. “But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that on April 12 that is the end date.”
“It means that they have to give a timeline for what it is that they are doing or set out exactly what it is that they have planned. It takes away the possibility of a cliff-edge in 24 hours.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the legal deadline, assuming Britain does not participate in the May 23-26 European Parliament elections, was June 30 - the date the British prime minister had originally sought an extension until.
A senior EU diplomat echoed the view that there could be wriggle-room for further delays.
“My reading is rather in the direction that April 12 is the new March 29,” the diplomat said. “The door is left open for another extension.”
Reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey, Richard Lough and Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Richard Lough, editing by Thomas Escritt and Gareth Jones