PARIS/BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders will grant Prime Minister Theresa May a second delay to Brexit but they could demand she accepts a much longer extension as France pushed for conditions to limit Britains ability to undermine the bloc.
A “flextension” until the end of the year or until March 2020, under which Britain could leave much sooner if its warring political tribes can find a majority, was shaping up to be the most likely, EU diplomats said, after envoys met in Brussels late on Tuesday to prepare for Wednesday evenings summit with May.
In a sign of just how far the three-year Brexit crisis has sapped British power, May dashed to Berlin and Paris to ask Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to allow the worlds fifth-largest economy to put off its divorce from April 12.
While it was not immediately clear what Merkel and Macron, Europes two most powerful leaders, agreed with May, an advance draft of conclusions for Wednesdays emergency EU summit said Britain would be granted another delay on certain conditions.
“The United Kingdom shall facilitate the achievement of the Unions tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Unions 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.
May has asked the EU for a Brexit delay to June 30 but the draft left the end-date blank pending a decision by the other 27 national leaders on Wednesday evening in Brussels.
More than a week 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.
“People are tired and fed up (with Britains indecision) – but what to do?” one EU diplomat said. “We wont 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 27s $16 trillion economy.
“Nobody wants to pull the plug by 13th April,” said the official. “But for how long – I dont know. And France will ask a lot of questions in Brussels.”
But as May arrived at the Elysee Palace in Paris to a guard of honour, she was unable to trumpet any breakthrough with Labour.
Shortly before she landed in Paris, an official in Macrons 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 EUs executive commission – and that the other 27 member states should be able to review its “sincere cooperation”.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Macron would not veto Mays extension but wanted conditions attached.
“He (Macron) certainly wants to know about conditionality, particularly the issue of the United Kingdom being involved in future (EU) decision-making,” Varadkar said.
Earlier in the day, May met Merkel at her riverside Chancellery, a short walk from Berlins Brandenburg Gate, and departed with a warm exchange of kisses.
While they discussed Brexit, Germanys opposition liberal FDP party drove an advertising van past the Chancellery with a slogan reading: “Dear Theresa May. Just do it. Stop Brexit. Make the most of Europes opportunities.”
Several EU diplomats said the 12-month extension proposed by European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair the Wednesday summit, was unlikely to fly and several capitals had agreed with France that this would be too long, fearing a protracted distraction from other pressing EU business.
In London, British Solicitor General Robert Buckland said May would “listen carefully” to any constructive suggestions made by the EU on the length of the extension. He conceded that the government might not have managed to ratify an exit deal in parliament before European elections are held on May 23-26.
According to the draft conclusions, if Britain did not take part in EU parliamentary elections properly, it would have to leave on June 1, 2019.
The pound, which has seesawed so much on Brexit news that some investors have stepped away from the sterling market, rose and then dipped on speculation Merkel could offer May a better deal. Germany denied that. [GBP/]
The 2016 referendum revealed a United Kingdom split over much more than EU membership, and has sparked impassioned debate about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and what it means to be British.
Yet nothing is yet resolved.
Unable to convince enough of her own Conservatives of the merits of her deal to get it passed, May is courting socialist Jeremy Corbyn, whose Labour Party wants tRead More