BRUSSELS: The European Union would play for time rather than rush to decide on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s reluctant request to delay Brexit again, diplomats with the bloc said after a 15-minute meeting on Sunday.

Johnson’s plan to put his Brexit withdrawal deal to the UK parliament on Saturday was derailed after lawmakers voted to withhold a decision on the deal, a move that forced him to seek a third postponement of Britain’s departure from the bloc. Britain’s exit had been envisaged for Oct 31.

From the EU’s point of view, extension options range from just an additional month until the end of November to half a year or longer.

At a rare Sunday meeting of ambassadors of the 27 states, which will make up the EU after Brexit, the diplomats decided to forward Johnson’s deal to the European Parliament for its required approval.

“We’re looking for more clarity towards the end of the week, hoping that by that time we will also see how things develop in London,” one senior EU diplomat said.

Another one added the meeting was very brief: “No questions, no discussion. We are waiting.”

The chairman of European Union leaders, Donald Tusk, said on Saturday he had received the extension request and he would now take “a few days” to consult EU capitals.

Prime Minister Antti Rinne of Finland, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said on Sunday that it would be “sensible” to agree to a third delay.

While weary of the tortuous Brexit process, EU leaders are keen to avoid a disorderly no-deal Brexit and are unlikely to reject the request. They hope the deal can eventually be approved in London.

Johnson is now expected to put his exit deal to the UK parliament in the next few days.

“The political ball is in Westminster,” said a third senior EU diplomat. “Let’s see how things pan out over the next few days.”

If developments in the UK parliament start to make a no-deal Brexit at the end of the month look unavoidable, the EU would likely step in, diplomats said. EU leaders might end up agreeing any new Brexit date at an emergency summit around next weekend.

The EU 27 have already agreed twice to postpone Brexit from the original deadline of March 29 this year. However, frustration has mounted over the distraction of a process that has dragged on for 3-1/2 years since Britons voted out.

The bloc has said the second extension would be the last one. French President Emmanuel Macron has been the most outspoken and impatient among the leaders on the issue.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019