PARIS: Prime Minister Theresa May battled on Tuesday to stop Britain crashing out of the EU this week, pleading with France and Germany for a second and more lengthy delay to Brexit.
A day ahead of an emergency EU summit that will help decide Britain’s fate, May met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin and was due later to meet in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, who so far has taken a harder line on the issue.
In a possible boost for the embattled British premier, an aide to Macron said Paris could be prepared to accept an extension of less than a year. In Germany, a source in Merkel’s party said she could consider a delay until the start of 2020. After meeting Europe’s two most powerful figures, May is hoping EU leaders will agree at the emergency summit to postpone Brexit from April 12 to June 30, to give her more time to get her divorce deal through parliament.
British MPs have rejected the text, and May’s government is now in talks with the opposition Labour party to try to find a way through the deadlock.
But these discussions are moving slowly, and EU negotiator Michel Barnier said May must explain in Brussels what another postponement would achieve.
“The length of the extension must be linked to the purpose — what it’s for — and that depends on what Mrs May will say to European leaders tomorrow,” he told reporters after a meeting of EU ministers in Luxembourg.
Speaking ahead of May’s talks in Paris with Macron, the aide to the French president said France had “never been closed to the idea of finding an alternative solution to ‘no deal’ within certain limits and not at any price”. But asked about the length, the aide said a year “seems too long.”
In a new sign of the dangers of a no-deal Brexit, the International Monetary Fund said that Britain risks a serious shock if it leaves the EU without an agreement.
Belgium meanwhile on Wednesday will host a mini-summit of the EU members most exposed to the dangers of a no-deal Brexit ahead of the main meeting.
EU ministers have expressed frustration at the turmoil in London, where MPs still cannot agree on how to leave the EU almost three years after the referendum vote for Brexit. “We are in a very, very frustrating situation here,” said Germany’s Europe minister Michael Roth as he arrived in Luxembourg. His French counterpart Amelie de Montchalin told reporters that “we want to understand what the UK needs this extension for”.
Britain is requesting only a short delay to avoid having to take part in European Parliament elections next month, but EU leaders are expected to offer a longer postponement.
EU Council president Donald Tusk’s office has floated the idea of a “flexible” extension of up to a year, with an option for London to leave earlier if it finds a way through, but there is no agreement on this.
Some in the EU are worried that during a long delay, British representatives could disrupt EU budget planning and reforms during indefinite Brexit talks.
The Macron aide said the strict conditions on an extension would need to include limits on Britain’s influence in the bloc so it was “present and applying the rules but not taking part in decision making.” Briefing MPs from her CDU-CSU conservative bloc after she hosted May in Berlin, Merkel said the option of a Brexit deadline in early 2020 would be discussed at the EU summit, according to the source.