EU set to offer to delay Brexit until May 22

The European Union looks set to offer to delay Brexit until May 22, so long as MPs approve Theresa May’s withdrawal deal in a House of Commons vote next week.

The proposed extension is five weeks shorter than the June 30 date requested by the Prime Minister, and is timed to ensure the UK is out of the EU before upcoming European Parliament elections.

Mrs May made the case for a June 30 extension in a 90-minute presentation to leaders of the other 27 member-states in Brussels, before leaving them to discuss their response in their absence.

A draft of the summit communique shows that the leaders are considering a postponement to May 22 – the day before the European elections begin.

“Given that the UK does not intend to hold elections to the European Parliament, no extension is possible beyond that date,” said the draft.

Prime Minister Theresa May is greeted with a kiss on the cheek by president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The document also suggested the EU will formally adopt two documents agreed by Mrs May with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Strasbourg last week, with the intention of reassuring MPs that the controversial backstop will not be permanent.

As she arrived in Brussels for what was slated to be the UK’s final EU summit as a member of the bloc, the Prime Minister said she “sincerely hopes” Britain will be able to leave with a deal.

But several leaders warned that if MPs turn down her Withdrawal Agreement for a third time, the UK could be heading for a no-deal Brexit on March 29.

French president Emmanuel Macron said only a short “technical” extension was on offer and if MPs reject the agreement “it will guide everybody to a no-deal for sure”.

Describing the UK as being in “political crisis”, Mr Macron said: “There needs to be a profound political change if there is to be an extension which is anything other than technical.”

Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel said: “At the moment, there are more non-options on the table than options… I sometimes have the feeling that we are in the waiting room, a bit like Waiting for Godot. But Godot never came so I hope this time they will come.”

And Italian PM Giuseppe Conte said: “We think a short delay could be useful. We need to wait for a new vote in the British Parliament.”

Mrs May was coming under intense pressure after a poor reception from some of her own MPs to her Downing Street statement on Wednesday, when she blamed MPs for failing to implement the result of the 2016 EU referendum and told frustrated voters “I am on your side”.

The televised message was described as a “low blow” by former minister Sam Gyimah.

But Number 10 defended her comments, saying they had been intended as a “message to the public” to explain why she had decided to seek an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process.

And she put the spotlight back on MPs as she arrived in Brussels, saying: “What is important is that Parliament delivers on the result of the referendum and that we deliver Brexit for the British people. I sincerely hope that we can do that with a deal.”

She added: “What matters is that we recognise that Brexit is the decision of the British people – we need to deliver on that.

“We’re nearly three years on from the original vote – it is now the time for Parliament to decide.”

Sir Keir Stammer and Jeremy Corbyn arrive in Brussels ahead of a meeting with Michel Barnier (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Jeremy Corbyn held what he described as “very constructive discussions” in Brussels with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and European Commission secretary general Martin Selmayr, which he said had focused on the means to prevent a no-deal Brexit next Friday.

The Labour leader twice declined to rule out the option of halting Brexit by revoking the Article 50 letter informing Brussels of Britain’s intention to quit, though a party spokesman later said revocation was “not in any way necessary”.

Mrs May met European Council president Donald Tusk and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for one-on-one talks ahead of her presentation.

With PM @theresa_may.

— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) March 21, 2019

With fears in Brussels growing that the UK is heading for a no-deal break, Mr Tusk said he would not hesitate to call an emergency summit next week if that proved necessary.

German chancellor Angela Merkel also said she will work “until the last hour” to try and ensure that Britain does not leave the European Union without a deal.

Speaking to German MPs ahead of the summit, Mrs Merkel stressed “the most important emergency measures” are in place in her country to handle no-deal, but she still hopes to avoid a crisis.

She added: “We will, despite these measures we have taken, work until the last day – I will say until the last hour – to ensure that this emergency planning doesn’t come into effect.

“We will do everything in the remaining, admittedly few, days to achieve an orderly, joint solution.”

Theresa May
Theresa May speaks with the media as she arrives in Brussels (Olivier Matthys/AP)

Mrs May formally made the request for an extension to the end of June in a letter to Mr Tusk on Wednesday.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain would be faced with three options if Mrs May’s deal is defeated again next week: revoke Article 50; leave without a deal; or, he said, a longer extension could be granted at an emergency EU summit, but with “onerous conditions”.

“The choice that we have now is one of resolving this issue or extreme unpredictability,” he warned.

(PA Graphics)

Mr Hunt sought to defend the Prime Minister’s statement, saying she was under “extraordinary pressure” and feels a “sense of frustration” – and said MPs have a “special responsibility” in a hung Parliament.

“She is absolutely determined to deliver what people voted for and I think… the Brexit process has sapped our national confidence and we need to remember now what we’re capable of as a country.”

A No 10 spokeswoman acknowledged Mrs May is facing some “extraordinarily difficult challenges”, but said she is working “tirelessly” to get her deal “over the line”.

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