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May set to be offered long delay to Brexit

Arriving at a crunch EU summit, the PM said she wanted the UK to leave as soon as possible so it could start building a ‘better and brighter future’.

Theresa May looks set to be offered a lengthy delay to Brexit as she meets EU leaders in Brussels for a crunch summit.

European Council president Donald Tusk has recommended that leaders of the remaining 27 EU countries approve an extension of up to a year, with a break clause allowing the UK to leave as soon as it ratifies its Withdrawal Agreement.

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that they “may well” go for an extension beyond the June 30 date requested by Mrs May.

But French President Emmanuel Macron warned as he arrived at the summit that “nothing is settled, and in particular not a long extension”.

Mr Macron said he was “impatient” to hear what Mrs May had to say, adding: “We must understand today why this request, what is the political project which justifies it and what are the clear proposals?”

The Prime Minister told MPs in March that “as Prime Minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than June 30”, sparking speculation that she could resign rather than wait longer for EU withdrawal.

But arriving in Brussels, she dodged the issue of whether she would accept a longer extension, insisting that her priority was to secure the right for the UK to leave once ratification is complete.

Mrs May was due to hold talks with European Council president Donald Tusk ahead of the summit (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Asked twice what she would do if the deadline offered by the EU27 was later than the end of June, Mrs May said: “I have asked for an extension to June 30, but what is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point at which we ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, so we can leave on May 22 and start to build our brighter future.”

In a swipe at the Brexit rebels who blocked her Withdrawal Agreement from passing through Parliament in time to leave on the scheduled date of March 29, Mrs May said: “I know many people are frustrated that the summit is taking place at all, because the UK should have left the EU by now.

“I greatly regret the fact that Parliament hasn’t been able to pass a deal that would have enabled us to leave in a smooth and orderly way.

“But I and the Government continue to work to find a way forward. We have been talking with the opposition. There’s been serious and constructive talks and they will continue tomorrow.”

In a pre-summit trip to Berlin and Paris on Tuesday, Mrs May made a last-ditch effort to win support from Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron for her proposal, which would allow the UK to leave on May 22 and avoid the need for elections to the European Parliament.

But Mrs Merkel said that the EU27 “may well” go for a longer delay, although the UK would be allowed to leave “very quickly” if Parliament approves a withdrawal deal.

“We will shape this extension in such a way that, whenever Britain has approved the Withdrawal Agreement, Britain can then complete its orderly withdrawal very shortly after,” she told German MPs.

Other leaders said that the main condition likely to be imposed in return for any extension was that Britain should prepare for European Parliament elections, though it need not actually vote if ratification is achieved earlier.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite rejected suggestions that countries like hers now held Britain’s fate in their hands.

“It is only up to the UK to decide,” she said. “Your country’s future is only in your hands, nobody else. It’s only up to you.

“You decide your fate, not us. We would only like to help you make this decision.”

Meanwhile, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar indicated that he would be prepared to contemplate a role for the UK in helping decide EU trade policies if it remains in a customs union after Brexit.

“It’s also in our interest to have the UK to be in our bloc and I think we would be generous in understanding that the UK couldn’t be a silent partner and would have to have a say in decisions being made” said Mr Varadkar

The unanimous agreement of all 27 remaining EU states is needed to avoid a no-deal Brexit at 11pm on Friday, April 12.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Brussels was “fully prepared” to cope in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

“This is not our desired outcome but we are not afraid of it. We are prepared,” he said.

The Prime Minister remains under intense pressure from Conservative MPs who oppose any further delay.

The best Brexit for the UK is for us to be able to leave in an orderly way, to be able to leave with a deal Theresa May

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Tory backbencher Craig Tracey said she should abandon her “diluted deal” and take Britain out on World Trade Organisation terms, while Henry Smith warned that an extension would cost the UK £1 billion a month.

Mrs May however told MPs that Britain would already be outside the EU if they had been prepared to vote for her Withdrawal Agreement.

“The best Brexit for the UK is for us to be able to leave in an orderly way, to be able to leave with a deal,” she said.

“We could actually have been outside the EU by now if we had managed to get the deal through.”

Justice Secretary David Gauke said Theresa May could carry on for another year to see Brexit through (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Pro-EU Justice Secretary David Gauke suggested Mrs May could carry on as PM until she has taken the country through the current phase of the negotiations and Britain has finally left the EU.

“I don’t think we should be rushing to change our leader when there is a big task to be done,” he told BBC Radio 5 live.

“If we are going through that process of trying to get Parliament to support a deal to find a way of breaking this deadlock, then Theresa May continues to be the right person to lead us through that process.”

The depth of the anger within the Tory ranks was underlined by a Commons vote on Tuesday, when 97 Tory MPs voted against a motion backing Mrs May’s call for an extension which only passed with the support of opposition MPs.

Meanwhile, veteran Tory Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash has written to Mr Tusk warning that an extended delay was likely to face a legal challenge in the British courts, “thus further prolonging the uncertainty surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU”.

In a letter to the leaders of the remaining EU27, Mr Tusk said there was “little reason to believe” that the ratification of Mrs May’s beleaguered Brexit deal could be completed by the end of June.

He called for the European Council to discuss an alternative, longer extension, such as a “flexible extension” lasting “as long as necessary and no longer than one year”.

EU leaders will gather for talks with European Parliament president Antonio Tajani on Wednesday evening, before hearing a presentation from Mrs May.

After answering their questions, the PM will leave the room to allow the EU27 to discuss Britain’s future in her absence over dinner.



From Belfast Telegraph