The European Union will need to know “the reason and the usefulness” of any UK request for a delay to Brexit before deciding whether to grant an extension, the EU’s chief negotiator has cautioned.
Theresa May is due to write by the end of Wednesday to European Council president Donald Tusk, setting out her proposal to extend the two-year process of negotiating withdrawal under the EU’s Article 50 rules.
But a delay in Brexit beyond the scheduled date of March 29 needs the approval of all 27 remaining member states at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.
Chief negotiator Michel Barnier told a news conference in Brussels: “It is our duty to ask whether this extension would be useful because an extension will be something which would extend uncertainty and uncertainty costs.”
He warned that the UK would need to propose “something new” to justify a lengthy extension, he said.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that Mrs May could ask for a lengthy extension to Article 50, with the option of an early break in May or June if she manages to get her Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament.
But Mr Barnier appeared to pour cold water on this possibility, telling a reporter: “You said both short and long.
“Well, it’s either one or the other, isn’t it?”
He added: “My feeling is … a longer extension needs to be linked to something new.
“There needs to be a new event or a new political process.