The European Union will grant Prime Minister Theresa May a second delay to Brexit at an emergency summit on Wednesday but the bloc’s leaders are likely to demand she accepts a longer extension with conditions.
In a sign of just how far the Brexit crisis has sapped British power, May dashed to Berlin and Paris on the eve of the summit to ask Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to allow her to put off the departure date to June 30 from April 12. But in Brussels, a “flex tension” until the end of the year or until March 2020 was shaping up to be the most likely option, EU diplomats said. Such an option would allow Britain to leave earlier if the Brexit deadlock in London could be broken.
While it was not immediately clear what Merkel and Macron, Europe’s two most powerful leaders, agreed with May, an advance draft of conclusions for Wednesday’s emergency EU summit said Britain would be granted another delay on certain conditions.
“The United Kingdom shall facilitate the achievement of the Union’s tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardize the attainment of the Union’s objectives,” read the draft seen by Reuters. As a full member state of the EU, Britain could in theory exercise a veto on any major policy decision.
The draft left the end-date blank pending a decision by the other 27 national leaders on Wednesday evening in Brussels.
“In my view, a short extension would not bring much,” said Detlef Seif, deputy EU spokesman for Merkel’s parliamentary group. “There is no appetite to return to a new European Council every six weeks to decide whether to renew the extension.” In European capitals, there was weariness and exasperation with Britain’s tortuous Brexit divorce after 46 years of membership.
“People are tired and fed up (with Britain’s indecision) – but what to do?” one EU diplomat said. “We won’t be the ones pushing the UK off the cliff edge.”
Another EU official involved with Brexit said no European power wanted the chaos that they fear a “no-deal” exit would sow through financial markets and the EU 27’s $16 trillion economies. Nearly two weeks after Britain was originally supposed to leave the EU, May, the weakest British prime minister in a generation, has said she fears Brexit might never happen as she battles to get a divorce deal ratified by a divided parliament.
After her pledge to resign failed to get her deal over the line, she launched crisis talks with the opposition Labour Party in the hope of breaking the domestic deadlock. But when she arrives in Brussels, May will is unlikely to be able to trumpet any breakthrough with Labour. After Tuesday’s round of talks, Labour said it had not yet seen a clear shift in May’s stance.
The Northern Irish party which props up her government said May was embarrassing the United Kingdom. “Nearly three years after the referendum the UK is today effectively holding out a begging bowl to European leaders,” Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Nigel Dodds said.
An official in Macron’s office said that “in the scenario of an extended delay, one year would seem too long for us”.
He added that if Britain did delay its exit, it should not take part in EU budget talks or in choosing the next president of the EU’s executive commission and that the other 27 member states should be able to review its “sincere cooperation”.