WASHINGTON – The extension of the deadline for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union to Oct. 31 eliminates the risk of an exit without an agreement, a situation that could have been “a terrible outcome,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Thursday.
“At least (the) UK is not leaving on April 12 without a deal. It gives time for continued discussions between the various parties involved in the UK,” said Lagarde at the first formal press conference held during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Spring Meetings being held in Washington.
“It probably gives time for economic agents to better prepare for all options, particularly industrialists and workers, in order to try to secure their future,” she added. “A no-deal Brexit would have been a terrible outcome.”
The top IMF official emphasized that the Brexit postponement does not fully resolve the situation but rather only delays it, but at least it offers the parties more time to continue with their discussions on how Britain can best make the break.
The Fund scaled back on Tuesday its economic growth forecasts for the UK to 1.2 percent for this year and 1.4 percent in 2020, saying that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is one of the factors weighing on the global economy.
The 26 countries that will remain in the EU after Britain’s exit agreed to grant London the extension to Oct. 31, which is midway between the short extension France had lobbied for and the longer one favored by Germany.
After an extraordinary summit that concluded on Thursday morning after several hours of discussion, the 26 agreed on the new Brexit schedule, which includes an intermediate evaluation of the process at the bloc’s regular summit in June.
The mandate of the current European Commission ends on Oct. 31 also, and thus London would not be part of a new EC.
British Prime Minister Theresa May had requested an extension until June 30, while the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, had said he was in favor of an extension of a year, at the longest, to allow the UK to leave the EU as soon as it is ready and meaning, in effect, that London would have to take part in the upcoming Europe-wide elections.
May’s request to delay the withdrawal until June 30 was aimed at allowing time for deal to be approved by Parliament, which has rejected her Brexit proposal on three occasions.
The inclusion of a mid-point status review leaves open the possibility that the UK can be out of the EU well before Oct. 31.
EU heads of government gathered in Brussels on Wednesday for an emergency summit to consider the appeal from May ahead of the existing Brexit deadline of April 12.
The original Brexit date, enshrined in UK law, was March 29, but with Parliament unwilling to endorse the withdrawal agreement, May sought and obtained late last month a dual-option delay.
London was given the option to delay Brexit until May 22, provided the House of Commons approved the agreement. Absent that approval, the UK would have until April 12 to propose a way forward or leave without a deal.
May, who leads a minority Conservative government that depends for survival on its alliance with the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, entered talks with the main opposition Labor Party in hopes of getting her deal through the House.
Britons voted by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU in a June 2016 referendum.