Ratas: Latest Brexit deadline may not be final either

Jüri Ratas (Centre), here addressing the press in Brussels on 10 April, is in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on Friday.
Jüri Ratas (Centre), here addressing the press in Brussels on 10 April, is in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on Friday. Source: AFP/Scanpix

Although EU leaders at Wednesday's European Council in Brussels decided to set 31 October as the new deadline for Brexit, it's possible that the UK won't leave the EU by then either, said Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre).

"We cannot rule out that the same question will be discussed again in October: what will happen if an agreement hasn't been reached in London," Mr Ratas told ERR in an interview late Wednesday night.

Commenting on British Prime Minister Theresa May's efforts to implement Brexit based on the negotiated agreement, the Estonian head of state admitted there has been limited progress made on this front. "She had sought [to set the deadline for Brexit] for the end of June," he said. "Her hope was likely that what had changed by the March European Council was that she had been capable of starting to hold a dialogue with the Labourists. But that isn't exactly a major achievement either."

Mr Ratas stressed that the UK's exit from the EU is disappointing on the whole, but the EU is nonetheless trying to avoid a hard Brexit — ie the UK's departure from the union without a deal.

"I don't think we can be satisfied at all with Brexit," he said. "But we can see today just how big of a lie the entire pre-referendum campaign was based on, and we see how many problems and serious debates it has caused in both the EU and the UK. It seems to me as though one thing is clear — the EU does not want to depart without a deal."

The European Council and British Prime Minister Theresa May reached an agreement that the deadline for Brexit would be extended until 31 October. The European Council once again stressed that the withdrawal agreement would not be reopened to discussion with this extension, and future relations would not begin to be negotiated until after an agreement has been approved. The EU also expects loyal cooperation on the Brits' part during the course of the extension, ie the UK cannot impede on any ongoing negotiations regarding the future of Europe.

The European Council noted that if the UK has not ratified a withdrawal agreement by 22 May and remains a member of the EU during the period of 23-26 May, it will be required to hold its own European Parliament elections. Should the UK fail to comply, the new date for Brexit will automatically be 1 June.

The European Council will discuss the situation again in June.

Ratas: EU not pushing anyone over the edge

The prime minister did not agree with Jaak Madison, a leader of Centre's new coalition partner Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), that some country should have refused to grant the UK another extension at the European Council, thus forcing the latter into a hard Brexit.

"The EU has proceeded throughout Brexit with the logic that nobody would be pushed over the edge," Mr Ratas said, adding that Mr Madison himself should be asked about what he had said.

In a social media post on Wednesday, Mr Madison expressed hope that there may be even just one country who would not agree to extending the deadline for Brexit.

"We need to find just one of 27 countries who will not agree to yet another extension, and already the day after tomorrow would happen that for which over 17 million Brits voted — [the UK's] withdrawal from the EU," the EKRE politician wrote. "This was the will of the people, and it must be respected. All countries have prepared for Great Britain withdrawing without an agreement, and with that will have the freedom to independently sign all trade deals going forward, with anyone in the world. Without the EU getting involved. May this happen the day after tomorrow already!"

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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