Diplomats and officials said “not a single EU country” refused to get on board with another extension to the bloc’s Article 50 exit clause during a ministerial meeting this afternoon. Brussels is keen to lay the blame for a no-deal scenario on Britain, leaving the most ardent European opposition to another Brexit delay cowering in the corner. French President Emmanuel Macron was set to be the most problematic leader during tomorrow’s emergency Brexit summit.
But he is set to change his tone in order to shift the blame for a no deal scenario onto Mrs May if there is no extension.
During the meeting of European affairs ministers, France warned its EU colleagues that allowing Britain to stay in the bloc beyond May’s European elections would lead to “diminished credibility” amongst voters.
Paris was joined by Greece, Slovenia and Austria as the most cautious EU member states.
Whereas Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Hungary and Sweden came out in support for the Prime Minister’s Brexit delay.
In the Luxembourg meeting room, EU27 ministers expressed a greater support for scrapping Mrs May’s proposed date on June 30 in favour of a delaying Britain’s divorce until the end of the year.
A minority of the countries claimed the Prime Minister should be allowed a shorter extension if she can prove there is a clear plan for winning the support of MPs for her hated Brexit deal.
Amid fears that Britain could disrupt EU business during the proposed extension, Brussels is working on a “good behaviour clause” to prevent such an occurrence.
One EU diplomat familiar with the discussions said: “The aim is to ensure the process isolates Brexit away from the rest of EU decision-making.
“It’s to what extension you want to create a separate agreement that sets out the expectations of British behaviour during the extension period.”
This morning, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, told the group of EU ministers: “We will not tolerate this.”
Austrian Europe minister Gernot Blumel said: “We are risking our credibility if we extend again. Theresa May is asking a lot of us. Therefore it is only fair we ask a decent plan and some conditions.”
During the behind-closed-doors meeting, he added: “But let’s be honest – we have the support of our people for our tactic, which has created a pro-European mood.”
If Britain remain into the bloc until the end of the year, the country will have to take part in the selection process for the new European Council and Commission presidents, as well as the early rounds of negotiations bloc’s next multi annual budget.
Mr Barnier set out the framework for any delay preventing Brussels being blamed for a no-deal Brexit.
The French eurocrat insisted that any Brussels plan would successfully divert the blame for a hard divorce onto the British.
He told reporters in Luxembourg: “The aim of all this is to achieve an orderly withdrawal and I’d prefer to see this rather than to imply our objective is to avoid a no deal, because a no deal will never be a decision taken by the EU.
“This extension has to serve a purpose to provide more time if necessary to ensure that the political process can be crowned with success and that this majority can be attained. The length of extension has got to be in line with the purpose being striven for.”