European Union agrees to offer May Brexit delay after Macron talks tough

Friday, 12 Apr, 2019

In the early hours of the morning, leaders of the remaining 27 European Union member states made a decision to give the prime minister an extra six and a half half months in which to break the Brexit deadlock at Westminster.

The other 27 EU leaders met without May over dinner to thrash out what European Council president Donald Tusk called "a flexible extension until 31 October", before she returned to seal the deal.

The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door negotiations.

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said in his tweet that he would now be meeting British Prime Minister Theresa May to secure her agreement.

Given that Britain's fractious Parliament has rejected her Brexit withdrawal deal with the European Union on three occasions this year, her hopes for a quick resolution could rest in large part on whether her Conservative Party-led government can find common ground with the opposition Labour Party.

As talks wore on beyond midnight, with May patiently waiting elsewhere in the building for word on her nation's fate, Macron rallied support for his concerns about a long extension.

If no extension materializes Wednesday, Britain will leave the bloc Friday with no deal, unless it cancels Brexit independently. Britain has the option of leaving before that if May succeeds in getting a withdrawal agreement ratified by Parliament.

MPs in Britain continue to be opposed to the Withdrawal Agreement finalised by May with the European Union in November 2018 and have rejected the so-called divorce bill three times since January this year.

European Council President Donald Tusk said that the "flexible extension" would provide "an additional six months for the United Kingdom to find the best possible solution".

"I think the extension should be as short as possible".

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has been engaged in talks with the government since at least last week seeking to break the Brexit impasse, but hasn't been satisfied with what he's heard back from the Conservatives. "Nothing should compromise the European project", Macron said after arriving at the summit.

Following the announcement of the extension, former Brexit secretary David Davis said pressure on Theresa May to quit as Prime Minister will increase.

"It's true that the majority was more in favor of a very long extension".

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who leads a three-party minority coalition that is propped up by a fourth, came out of the meeting telling reporters that the delay to October was "to give a chance to the new thing that has happened in Britain - where for the first time since World War Two they are having consultations across the political divide".

Downing Street says she stands by her commitment to see through this stage of Britain's exit, and some colleagues say she is going nowhere.

Pro-EU politicians said the next few months should be used to hold a new referendum on whether to leave the EU or remain.

France wants a new summit once it is clearer whether or not there will be an early ratification or a British EU vote. Labour favors a softer Brexit than the government has proposed, and wants to retain a close economic relationship with the bloc.

Sir Bill Cash, Conservative MP for Stone and Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, had already said that he may challenge a long extension in court.