Brexit can’t be delayed beyond July 1 unless Britain takes part in the European Parliament election at the end of May, according to an EU document presented to ambassadors of member countries on Friday.
The draft document, circulated to EU ambassadors on Friday and seen by the Financial Times, makes clear Britain has to take part in the May 23-26 votes if it seeks an extension of more than three months.
The document, prepared by EU officials, sets out the legal issues that would be raised by Britain requesting an extension of the Article 50 period, as Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to do next week.
The text states that a withdrawing member country is legally bound to organize European Parliament elections between May 23 and May 26 this year. If the member country does not do so and the new Parliament holds its first session on July 2 with that country still in the bloc, the EU institutions “cease being able to operate in a secure legal context.”
Britain’s membership extension beyond March 29 is to be debated by EU leaders at a summit next week and European capitals disagree over the terms and length of any delay. Any decision requires the unanimous consent of 27 remaining EU leaders and the UK.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, said this week that Britain must have left the EU by May 22 if it did not want to participate in the election. But the paper focuses instead on July 2 — when newly elected MEPs are due to take their seats.