Britain has to convince “each and every” EU country to grant any delay to Brexit, the Dutch foreign minister warned Wednesday as the bloc’s position on any postponement appeared to harden.
As the Dutch government unveiled special Brexit preparations at a major ferry port, Stef Blok said the Netherlands would view a demand for a postponement from its traditional ally with “benevolence”.
But he said the 27 European Union leaders who would decide on the issue at a summit next week would need to know the purpose of a delay to Britain’s scheduled departure on March 29.
He added that the Netherlands “regrets” the British parliament’s rejection for a second time on Tuesday of the withdrawal deal agreed between Brussels and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
“All the people here will be very much affected by a no deal Brexit,” Blok told reporters as lorries rolled off ferries at the port of Vlaardingen, near Rotterdam.
Asked how his government would view a delay request, Blok said: “Of course our question will be what will this extension be used for, because an extension without a clear goal in sight won’t solve anything.
“The Netherlands will regard such a British wish with benevolence, but of course each and every EU member state has to be convinced.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said after Tuesday’s British parliamentary vote that “should the UK hand in a reasoned request for an extension, I expect a credible and convincing justification.”
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier also warned that the union would need to hear a plan from Britain before deciding on a Brexit delay.
Dutch officials said meanwhile they had drastically stepped up preparations for “no deal” as the British parliament prepared to vote later Wednesday on whether to back such a move.
Around 30 percent of all goods going from Britain to the EU pass through the Netherlands, while Vlaardingen alone sees 1.2 million lorries a year pass through.
Customs officials at Vlaardingen on Wednesday said they had recruited 500 out of the 900 extra staff they need, while food safety experts said they had had to recruit vets from abroad.
Dutch international trade minister Sigrid Kaag said meanwhile that after Brexit the Netherlands was ready to act as “the gateway to the European union, the door is wide open.”