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EU likely to delay Brexit until EU elections

March 21, 2019

Leaders of EU states are willing to push the Brexit date to May 22, just ahead of European elections, according to a draft statement. This still hinges on the UK Parliament accepting Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement.

Germany's Angela Merkel walks past EU flags in Brussels
Image: Getty Images/S. Gallup

EU leaders are considering an extension on Brexit after meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May in Brussels on Thursday, which would give May more time to break the political impasse in London. The UK is currently set to leave the bloc on March 29.

However, the officials apparently rejected the three-month postponement requested by May and instead marked May 22 as the deadline for London to leave the bloc. The EU deadline would allow the UK to leave just before voting for the new European Parliament starts.

"Given that the United Kingdom does not intend to hold elections to the European Parliament, no extension is possible beyond that date," the EU leaders said in a draft statement.

Later, a diplomatic source quoted by Reuters reported the politicians were also considering other options for a Brexit delay. According to the EU diplomat, Paris pushed back against the May 22 deadline and pitched May 7 instead.

Others proposed to prolong Brexit until the end of 2019 or to leave the date open. All scenarios are fraught with their own pitfalls; shorter extensions risk no progress being made, while longer ones could force the UK to hold European elections.

All 27 heads of the remaining EU nations are required to sign off on the postponement.

Also, the two-month extension would only be valid if Theresa May manages to push the divorce deal through the UK Parliament. The Withdrawal Agreement, which took 18 months to negotiate, already suffered two resounding defeats in the House of Commons.

Macron: Third time must be the charm

Another rejection in London would "guide everybody to a no-deal for sure," French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier on Thursday.

"This is it," he added, speaking in English.

Angela Merkel, meanwhile, sought a slightly more conciliatory tone in Berlin's Bundestag before leaving for Brussels.

Speaking to lawmakers on Thursday morning, Merkel said her government was taking steps to limit the impact of the UK crashing out.

"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," she said.

UK Parliament asked to revoke Brexit

A no-deal scenario would cause billions in economic damage to the UK, but also trigger serious disruption in the remaining EU member countries. Ireland, with particularly close economic ties to the UK, appealed for leniency to avert a disorderly UK exit.

"Nobody wants no-deal here," Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.

On Wednesday, a group of UK citizens also launched a petition to the Parliament, asking that the lawmakers unilaterally revoke the Brexit process and keep Britain in the EU. The petition has topped 1.1 million signatures by Thursday afternoon. However, critics say that overruling the 2016 referendum without consulting the public could deepen the political crisis in the already divided country.

UK MPs worried for their safety

All British lawmakers were advised against traveling home alone amid Brexit tensions.

"I have never felt this level of tension during my time in the House and I am aware other colleagues feel the same," Deputy Speaker of the UK Parliament Lindsay Hoyle reportedly wrote to his colleagues.

"We can also take simple steps to improve our personal safety by traveling home from the House by taxi or with colleagues in the coming days," he said, according to an internal memo cited by British media outlets on Thursday.

Soubry doubtful about Brexit

Previously, Brexit opponent Anna Soubry said she was facing "very, very serious death threats" and that a senior police officer told her she should be worried about her safety.

"I'm not able to go home this weekend, I am not safe," said Soubry, one of three Conservative MPs to leave the party in protest last month.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is due to address the media from Brussels on Thursday evening.

dj/msh (dpa, Reuters, AP)

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