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STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) – Britain should use the next few months to “cool down and rethink” its decision to leave the European Union, the socialist candidate to head the next European Commission, Frans Timmermans, said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Frans Timmermans, the newly elected Party of European Socialists President, speaks during the Party of European Socialists annual meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/File Photo

Last week EU leaders gave Britain an extension of its departure date until Oct. 31, with the possibility of leaving sooner if parliament ratifies a divorce deal Prime Minister Theresa May has negotiated with the EU. MPs have already rejected the deal three times.

“I absolutely hope that the UK might stay in the EU,” Timmermans, now the Commissions first vice president, said in a television debate with his main rival, Manfred Weber of the centre-right European Peoples Party (EPP).

“I hope this period of extension will be used for Britain to calm down and rethink things a bit, perhaps for politicians to be more responsible with the promises they make, and then look at the issue again later this year,” the Dutchman said.

“Who knows what might change in the meantime?” he said.

Timmermans was expressing a sentiment shared by some in the EU, notably the chairman of EU leaders, Donald Tusk, that Britain could still change its mind and stay in the EU.

LABOUR TO TIMMERMANS RESCUE?

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Polls show that enough Britons may have had a change of heart about Brexit since the 2016 referendum, in which they voted to leave the bloc by 52 to 48 percent. But May and her government remain strongly opposed to holding another vote.

Timmermans hopes to replace the EPPs Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission, the most powerful of EU institutions. He is running on a ticket from the EUs second biggest political family, the socialists.

Britain is likely to still be a member of the EU at the time of the European Parliament elections on May 23-26, which means it would take part in the vote. Britains opposition Labour Party, which backs a second referendum, could help Timmermans socialists win more seats in the 751-seat European assembly.

Weber does not stand to benefit in the same way from British participation in the EU elections because no UK parties belong to the EPP, currently the largest grouping in the parliament.

“I have a problem that they (BrRead More

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