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EU would agree to Brexit delay, says German minister

The Guardian logo The Guardian 21/10/2019 Daniel Boffey in Brussels
Peter Altmaier wearing glasses and looking at the camera: Peter Altmaier: ‘I am not ideologically opposed to extending again a few days or a few weeks if you then get a good solution that excludes a hard Brexit.’ © EPA Peter Altmaier: ‘I am not ideologically opposed to extending again a few days or a few weeks if you then get a good solution that excludes a hard Brexit.’

The unconventional “form” of Boris Johnson’s extension request is irrelevant to the EU, the European commission has confirmed, as Germany’s finance minister said “it goes without saying” that a further Brexit delay would be granted.

Peter Altmaier, a key ally of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said he believed either a technical extension to allow extra-time for legislation to pass, or a longer period to accommodate a general election or second referendum would be offered.

“We have already twice agreed to an extension. I have repeatedly said as my own opinion I am not ideologically opposed to extending again a few days or a few weeks if you then certainly get a good solution that excludes a hard Brexit,” Altmaier said.

”If the British are to opt for one of the longer-term options, that is new elections or a new referendum, then it goes without saying that the European Union should do it, for me anyway.”

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel © Getty German Chancellor Angela Merkel

The prime minister sent three letters on Saturday evening after being legally obliged to ask the EU to provide for a delay beyond 31 October.

Alongside an unsigned photocopy of the request he was obliged to send under the Benn act, there was an explanatory letter from the UK’s ambassador to the EU and a personal letter from Johnson explaining why Downing Street thought a further delay would be corrosive.

A spokeswoman for the European commission said the European council president, Donald Tusk, was consulting with the heads of state and government on how they will respond but the request had been formally received.

The spokeswoman added that the EU’s own ratification processes had been launched in preparation for approval by the Commons.

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“The request to extend Article 50 was made by the UK’s permanent representative to the EU”, the spokeswoman said. “President Tusk acknowledged receipt of the request on Saturday and stated that he’s now consulting with the EU27. So this form does not change anything.”

Speaking to the German radio station Deutschlandfunk, Altmaier said the onus was on Downing Street to provide clarity on the next steps as soon as possible for Brexit to be possible on 31 October.

“What we need is clarity and we need it quickly,” Altmaier said. “In recent months, we have repeatedly taken into account the difficult situation in the UK. At the moment, the hardest part is that we do not know who actually speaks for this country: is it the government or is it the elected parliament? Both represent different positions. The government would like to quit on 31 October. Parliament has requested a delay. This is a very difficult topic now. We will talk about this with our European partners.”

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