March 13, 2019 / 10:49 AM / 12 days ago

Objective is to avoid hard Brexit - Austria's Kurz

Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz addresses the media in Vienna, Austria March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

VIENNA (Reuters) - EU heads of government would unanimously support any decision to avoid a hard Brexit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Wednesday, suggesting a short delay to Britain leaving the European Union on March 29 may be necessary.

British lawmakers crushed Prime Minister Theresa May’s EU divorce deal on Tuesday, thrusting Britain deeper into crisis and forcing parliament to decide within days whether to back a no-deal Brexit or seek a last-minute delay.

Kurz said he expected there would be no majority in the British parliament in a vote on Wednesday for leaving the bloc without a withdrawal agreement, in which case a vote on deferring Brexit is due to take place on Thursday.

“If that all happens as outlined, then we support this course of action,” Kurz told a news conference. “I assume that among the (EU) heads of government there is the unanimous view that it makes sense to avoid a no-deal scenario, a so-called hard Brexit.”

He repeated that it would be better if Brexit happened before the European Parliament election at the end of May.

“The shorter the phase that we extend by the better, but the broader objective that must be kept in the foreground is to avoid a hard Brexit, so ideally I would say we are talking about weeks rather than months,” he said.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Catherine Evans and Janet Lawrence

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