No mean feat leaving EU: ‘It took UK seven years to leave Malta’, says Muscat

European leaders have agreed to push the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the union to 22 May, if the House of Commons agrees to a Brexit deal

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (left) with High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (left) with High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte

A decision by European leaders to allow an extension to Britain’s withdrawal agreement leaves the door open to further developments in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Friday.

“Now there is enough time for the European Union to be realistically prepared for a no-Brexit scenario,” Muscat said, adding that the extension would also “leave the door open to further developments in the UK that could give everyone some breathing space”.

Muscat was speaking at the end of a European Summit during which it was agreed that the EU would accept for the UK’s withdrawal to be pushed forward to the 22 May, if the House of Commons approves a Brexit deal. In the absence of an agreement, the deadline will be pushed to the 12 April, at which point the UK will need to decide on a way forward.

The Prime Minister said it was important for the concerns on the part of a number of member states to be addressed, especially given that there was a realistic possibility that the EU could find itself in a situation where it needed to take a decision on the UK’s future in only 24 hours. Another concern was that an impression could have been given that the EU wanted to expel the UK.

Muscat said that the new double deadline should send a message to the UK that the time for taking decisions has really and truly arrived.

Despite an agreement on an extension, the Prime Minister said this did not mean that there would be no tension as the deadline gets closer, but he said that the way in which the choice had been designed was sending a clear message the UK parliament that “Europe no longer has any room for maneuver”, while also sending a message to Europe that it needed to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

READ MORE: EU to allow Brexit delay until 22 May if British MPs accept divorce deal next week

Speaking to state broadcaster TVM following yesterday’s meeting, Muscat, replying to a question on whether he was disappointed there still didn’t appear to be an agreement, said he was disappointed by not really surprised.

“It took the UK seven years to leave Malta and they ended up paying an equivalent of over €1.5 billion. Seeing as it took seven years to leave Malta, two years were definitely not enough to leave the EU.”

Europe must remain open to China 

In addition to Brexit, EU leaders also discussed the union’s commercial ties with China, with Muscat saying that if Europe wanted to practice what it preached regarding open markets, it needed to remain open to one of the biggest markets in the world.

“We ensure a level-playing field by being clear with Chinese investors that the way in which they operate in Europe must be according to European regulations,” Muscat said, adding however that protectionism was not the answer.

Muscat concluded by noting that, on the other hand, it was important for technologies developed in Europe to be incentivized to stay in Europe, insisting that for this reason, there needed to be a revision of the EU’s policies on industry.