UK PM Theresa May tours Europe with Brexit extension plea | News | DW | 09.04.2019
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UK PM Theresa May tours Europe with Brexit extension plea

On a European day trip, Theresa May is trying to convince the German and French leaders to give her more time for Brexit. Her visits to Berlin and Paris precede an EU emergency summit on how long the delay should be.

Prime Minister Theresa May visited Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday and made an evening call on French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris as she sought a further extension for Brexit beyond this Friday, April 12. As it stands, that's when Britain would leave the bloc without a deal — a scenario all sides say they want to avoid.

May's office in London said she and Merkel had agreed on "the importance of ensuring Britain's orderly withdrawal from the European Union."

Merkel, briefing her parliamentary conservatives subsequently in Berlin, reportedly told them that she could imagine months of delay up to December and that an orderly Brexit, based on agreement between the EU and Britain, was in Germany's interests. 

In Paris, an Elysee Palace aide close to Macron, who has taken a more reticent stance against a lengthy delay, said a delay of up to a year seemed "too long."

The aide said if the EU allowed an extension beyond Friday it would need to include limits on Britain's influence in the bloc so that it was "present and applying the rules but not taking part in [EU] decision making." 

Wednesday's EU emergency summit in Brussels follows collective postponement of Britain's first departure date, March 29.

May's ministers at home have been holding talks with the opposition Labour party on the terms of the UK's departure. On Tuesday afternoon, these were put on hold pending the EU summit.

A tense Tuesday

May met Chancellor Merkel in Berlin for around an hour and a half. She arrived ahead of schedule and had to wait a few moments for Merkel to greet her at the red carpet, a symbolic slip that was widely reported.

Germany's state minister for Europe, Michael Roth, said Tuesday the conditions for a further extension had thus far not been met. He said the UK needed to show "substantial steps" towards resolving its political deadlock but said a no-deal Brexit would be the worst possible outcome.

Roth's statement was seconded by both Dutch and French officials, who said May must present a clear reason as to why the EU should accept a further delay, and a plan for going forward.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, also said the length of any delay will depend on the rationale May presents in Brussels on Wednesday.

Read more: British MPs vote against all alternative Brexit options

What are the key clashes?

  • May is seeking to postpone the UK's departure date from April 12 to June 30, but the EU may offer the UK a longer extension period of up to a year.
  • However, any extension beyond May 22 would require the UK to take part in EU elections, which the British prime minister wants to avoid.
  • Meanwhile in London, talks will continue between Tory and Labour politicians with Labour pushing for a customs union, which the Tories oppose.
  • The so-called Irish "backstop" is also a central sticking point: It would keep the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland open in the event of a no-deal outcome, but this angers Brexit hard-liners who say it would split off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Read more: Brexit: Why is the Irish backstop so controversial?

Who is in control?

On Monday the British Parliament passed a resolution giving lawmakers power to review and make binding changes to any extension request put forth by May. The Parliament is expected to vote Tuesday on May's proposed extension date of June 30.

May has lost the support of her Conservative party, which is split over how to exit the EU. In a last-ditch attempt to get a deal passed, she reached out to the opposition Labour Party.

Talks on Tuesday continue with the Labour party focused on:

  • the political declaration — to include a full customs union in the future relationship with the EU
  • legal assurances the agreement will survive a change of Conservative leadership: the "Boris-lock" named for likely candidate Boris Johnson
  • a confirmatory public vote on the final deal. 

In an attempt to scrape together any support from her own party holdouts, May also promised to resign early should a withdrawal deal be negotiated.

Read more: UK lawmakers pass bill to force Brexit delay to avoid no-deal exit

Answer due from Brussels

At Wednesday's summit, EU heads of state must unanimously ratify any further extension on the withdrawal agreement.

cmb, ipj/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)

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