The European Union agreed to delay Brexit until Jan. 31 next year on Monday — just three days before it was due to take place.
After a very short meeting of diplomats in Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter that the EU’s 27 other countries agreed to accept “the UK’s request for a Brexit flextension until 31 January, 2020. The decision is expected to be formalized through a written procedure.”
The term flextension means that the U.K. will be able to leave earlier if the Brexit deal secured by Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ratified before Jan. 31.
Tusk’s announcement came as European Union diplomats met in Brussels to sign off on the new delay for Britain’s departure, which had been on Oct. 31.
Leaving the ambassador’s gathering, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said it had been a “short and efficient and constructive meeting,” adding, “I’m very happy that a decision has been taken.”
A delay could have been agreed last week, but Paris was reluctant, concerned it would do nothing to boost the chances of Britain deciding how to handle the end of its five-decade relationship with the EU.
Johnson had been pushing for a definitive break on Oct. 31 after finally striking a withdrawal deal with fellow EU leaders at an Oct. 17 summit.
But he has yet to persuade skeptical British MPs to ratify the accord, raising the specter of a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit and severe economic disruption in the United Kingdom.
In the meantime, he is trying to break the logjam — and strengthen his tenuous grip on office — by demanding an early election to secure a parliamentary majority.
But the British opposition has been reluctant to deliver the two-thirds vote needed to approve a snap poll until the threat of a disorderly Brexit is off the table.
The expected decision to postpone Brexit beyond the end of the month would do this, but Paris wanted EU capitals to wait until the UK election timetable was clear.
On Monday, however, European diplomats told French Press Agency (AFP) they would wait no longer and would make a decision without further delay after Britain agreed it would not try to change the withdrawal deal.
“The conditions of the extension have been specified and reinforced, notably on the fact the deal is not renegotiable,” a French diplomatic source told AFP in Paris.
Later Monday, Johnson was to ask the House of Commons to vote on a snap election, which he wants to hold on Dec. 12 — after MPs have had time to ratify his Brexit deal.
However he faces defeat on that move, as with his two previous election calls.
He needs the support of two-thirds of the 650 MPs, but does not have even a simple majority.
The Labour party dislikes Johnson’s Brexit deal and says it will not back an election until his threat of leaving the EU with no deal at all is removed.
More than three years after Britons voted 52-48 percent for Brexit in a 2016 referendum, the country and parliament remain divided.
Johnson, a leader of the “Leave” campaign, took office in July this year vowing to take Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31 whatever happens.
But MPs rebelled against his threat to sever 46 years of ties without a deal and passed a law requiring him to seek a delay if they refused to accept his divorce terms.