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EU leaders meet to decide another Brexit delay

AFP

Brussels

European leaders gathered in Brussels on Wednesday to decide how long a Brexit delay to grant British Prime Minister Theresa May — and under what conditions.

Without a postponement, Britain is due to crash out of the European Union at midnight on Friday under a “no-deal” Brexit that could trigger economic chaos.

May has embarked on a last-ditch battle to postpone Brexit from April 12 to June 30 to arrange an orderly departure — but European leaders are expected to offer her a longer delay of up to a year.

“There are times when you need to give time,” EU Council President Donald Tusk tweeted, as he issued summit invitations.

Summit host Tusk said the evidence of recent months gave EU leaders “little reason to believe” that British lawmakers will ratify the Brexit withdrawal treaty before May’s preferred June 30 departure.

“In reality, granting such an extension would increase the risk of a rolling series of short extensions and emergency summits, creating new cliff-edge dates,” he said, reflecting concern in EU capitals.

“One possibility would be a flexible extension, which would last only as long as necessary and no longer than one year,” he said.

According to a draft copy of the summit conclusions that EU leaders were to receive and debate later in the day, they will agree to an extension to allow May time to ratify the withdrawal agreement.

“Such an extension should last only as long as necessary and, in any event, no longer than (XX.XX.XXXX),” the draft reads.

The other 27 EU leaders will thrash out what date to fill in the blanks on Wednesday.

“If the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified by both parties before this date, the withdrawal will take place on the first day of the following month,” the draft, seen by AFP says.

If Britain is still in the European Union when EU parliamentary elections begin on May 23, it must take part in the vote.

“If the United Kingdom fails to live up to this obligation, the withdrawal will take place on 1 June 2019,” the draft warns.

If an extension is agreed, Brussels will portray it as a concession to Britain, with some members — particularly France — not keen to see the disruptive Brexit drama drag on much longer.

But May insists she still wants to quickly ratify the withdrawal she agreed with EU leaders last November, but which has been rejected by British lawmakers, and to leave before the EU polls.

On Tuesday, May flew to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then on to Paris, where an aide to President Emmanuel Macron said France was open to solutions.

“We’ve never been closed to the idea of finding an alternative solution to ‘no deal’ within certain limits and not at any price,” the Elysee source said.

Discussions in Brussels are to focus on the length of the delay — the French source said a 12-month extension “seems too long” — and arrangements to limit Britain’s influence within the EU.

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