EU wrangles over new Brexit delay sought by May


BRUSSELS: European Union leaders will grant Prime Minister Theresa May a second delay to Britain’s fraught exit at an emergency summit on Wednesday but will argue over how long and on what terms.

French President Emmanuel Macron was pushing to withhold any commitment to extend Friday’s deadline much beyond elections to the European Parliament on May 23-26 unless May binds herself, and any potentially more anti-EU successor, not to disrupt the workings of the Brussels machinery.

“Nothing can be taken for granted,” Macron warned, voicing frustration with a lack of decisions nearly three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc.

Three weeks ago, Macron’s impatience with France’s historic cross-Channel rival dominated the last summit, when Brexit was put back by a fortnight. Diplomats said he would again face a more cautious line from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said she favored an extension of “several months”.

Merkel said it was “very important” for her that May had launched preparations for an EU election on May 23 — a vote that some see as bordering on the surreal and others as a virtual second referendum on Brexit.

Legally, Britain is due to leave the EU on Friday with no transition to new trading arrangements. But no one expected that to happen as leaders lined up to insist they would not force Britain out in a disorderly departure.

“It’s up to the Brits to decide,” Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said, noting that Britain could still leave without a deal, accept the deal that its parliament has rejected three times, or change its mind and stay in the EU.

“If they need a little more time, I think it’s reasonable to discuss what that would be.”


May has asked the EU to wait until June 30 as she seeks help from her Labour opponents to build a majority in parliament in the coming weeks for her plan for leaving the EU.

“I want us to be able to leave the European Union in a smooth and orderly way as soon as possible,” she said.

“I’ve asked for an extension to June 30, but what is important is that the extension enables us to leave at the point at which we ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, so we could leave on May 22 and start to build our brighter future.”

Much will hang on how May handles her peers, diplomats said.

Some, like Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, said Britain should have a full year more to sort itself out. Others, like Stefan Lofven, the Swedish premier, echoed Macron’s concerns about the risks that a long extension would carry for the functioning of the EU.

Summit chair Donald Tusk has proposed a “flextension” of nine months to a year.

If Britain does not elect EU lawmakers, it must leave, with or without a deal, on June 1, according to a draft summit agreement seen by Reuters. Otherwise, it would leave as soon as it ratifies the deal, or without one when the extension ends.