STRASBOURG (Reuters) - The European Council president said on Tuesday that London’s request for an extension of its deadline for divorce from the EU should be taken seriously, and the bloc’s other members would never take a decision that forces Britain out with no deal.
Donald Tusk told the European Parliament that he was discussing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request for a Brexit delay beyond Oct. 31 with the leaders of the other 27 member states and would make a decision “in the coming days”.
“I have no doubt that we should treat the British request for an extension in all seriousness,” he told lawmakers in the Strasbourg assembly of the European Union parliament.
“A no-deal Brexit will never be our decision,” Tusk said, to a round of applause.
Johnson faces two pivotal Brexit votes in parliament on Tuesday that will decide if he can deliver on his pledge to lead Britain out of the EU in just nine days’ time.
As the clock ticks down to the latest Oct. 31 deadline for the United Kingdom’s departure, Brexit is hanging in the balance as a divided parliament debates when, how and even whether it should happen.
After he was forced by opponents into the humiliation of asking the EU for a delay that he had promised he would never ask for, Johnson is battling to ram legislation through the House of Commons that will enact his last-minute Brexit deal.
The European Parliament must also approve the Brexit deal struck by Britain at an EU summit last week, but European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the Strasbourg assembly it could only do so once it has been approved by the British parliament.
“We need now to watch events in Westminster very closely. But it is not possible, not imaginable that this Parliament would ratify the agreement before Westminster will have ratified the agreement – first London, then Brussels and Strasbourg,” he said.
Juncker said Brexit had been a waste of time, and it irked him that he could not have spent more of his five-year mandate on making the bloc serve its citizens better.
“In truth, it has pained me to spend so much of this mandate dealing with Brexit, when I have thought of nothing less than how this Union could do better for its citizens – a waste of time and a waste of energy,” he said.
However, he said the new agreement creates the legal certainty for an orderly withdrawal of Britain from the EU.
“I will always regret the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the Union. But at least we can look ourselves in the eye and say that we have done all in our power to make sure that this departure is orderly,” he said.
In a debate that followed in Strasbourg, British members of the European Parliament bickered with each other over Brexit.
One of them, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, criticized Johnson for trying to avoid an extension because it would damage his Conservative party in the polls and instead was trying to “bounce us into this new treaty” by Oct. 31.
“It’s the same story every time: it is about the Tory Party, not about the country. What we need to do is to build a Leave alliance of those across the spectrum to fight and win the next general election: the only way we can leave this place is with a clean-break Brexit,” Farage said.
Reporting by John Chalmers and Jonas Ekblom; editing by Giles Elgood