Brussels insists business as usual amid Brexit delay request from PM

Angus Walker

Former ITV News Correspondent

As he emerged from a "short and normal" meeting with EU Ambassadors in Brussels this morning, the EU's Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier joked with waiting reporters saying "you are very patient" before adding "me too, me too".

He needs to be.

He, along with the rest of the EU, states thought they had a deal almost a year ago and yet here they all are, once again waiting for the UK Parliament to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement.

Mr Barnier insisted he is simply taking the next step on ratifying the deal struck with the UK at his meeting, he'll update the European Parliament tomorrow, but he was also asked if the EU would grant the request for a Brexit extension.

He said the extension request was a matter for Donald Tusk, the EU Council's President, and would be dealt with "in the next few days".

Boris Johnson and the letter he didn't want to send - but had to anyway. Credit: ITV News

Indeed, the extension wasn't discussed by Ambassadors today. Deciding whether to delay Brexit and avoid No Deal is a decision for EU Leaders not for diplomats.

"It's above my pay grade," said one Ambassador as he left.

It's true to say that with the negotiations done, Mr Barnier's work is done (he hopes).

Now, it's for the EU27 leaders to decide if they grant that extension.

Last night, the letter that Boris Johnson was compelled to send was delivered to Donald Tusk. It was a cut and paste of the template letter contained in the Benn Act or the "Surrender Act" as Mr Johnson prefers to call it.

Boris Johnson lost in a parliamentary showdown dubbed 'Super Saturday'. Credit: PA

It was unsigned.

No-one in Brussels needs to read between the lines. There's little appetite for delay here either. It was only a few days ago that the EU backed the deal it had struck with Boris Johnson. Now they want the deal signed off.

There's no sign of a rush to reply.

"A few days" might just give the Prime Minister enough breathing space to get his deal voted through. It seems they are buying time for Boris Johnson in Brussels.

The hope from the EU is that they can wait out events in Westminster and, if somehow the Withdrawal Agreement is passed, then that letter can be confined to the Brexit bin.