While an extension has been offered to the UK for withdrawal from the EU, the union's continued effective functioning has to be ensured as well, said Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre).
The heads of state or government of the 27 EU member states and the UK agreed at Thursday's European Council meeting to postpone Brexit until 22 May on the condition that the UK Parliament endorses the withdrawal agreement next week. Should it fail to do so, EU leaders have agreed to postpone Brexit until 12 April, and expect the UK to "indicate a way forward before this date."
Mr Ratas said that it is in the interests of all parties involved that the UK's withdrawal from the EU should occur pursuant to the agreement.
"The only way to do that is still according to the withdrawal agreement endorsed by the British government and the EU, the integral part of which is the Irish backstop," he said.
The European Council also approved the instrument related to the withdrawal agreement and the joint statement supplementing the political declaration agreed between the European Commission and the British government in Strasbourg on 11 March.
The Estonian prime minister stressed that should Brexit be delayed, the effective functioning of the EU has to be ensured and that the legal and practical aspects of the European Parliament must also be taken into consideration. 22 May is the day preceding the beginning of the European Parliament elections, and 12 April the final day on which the UK could still begin organising their elections to the European Parliament. This would be required for a scenario in which the withdrawal agreement is not endorsed, but the UK sought an extended delay.
Preparations for hard Brexit to continue
"It is in our interests that the UK's withdrawal from the EU impose as little negative impact as possible," he said, adding that considering how long and arduous the withdrawal process has been, it is important to reach an agreement with the UK regarding future relations. "We want our cooperation with the UK to remain close in the future as well."
Mr Ratas added that the prerequisite for determining future relations is the ratification of the withdrawal agreement, and until this has been completed, the EU will continue preparations for a no-deal Brexit.
The heads of state or government of the 27 member states of the EU met with President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani and British Prime Minister Theresa May prior to the European Council meeting.
Editor: Aili Vahtla