British Prime Minister Theresa May will ask the European Union on Wednesday for a delay to the country’s divorce from the bloc, due to take place in nine days, but the EU warned it could keep Britain waiting for an answer.
May’s Downing Street office said she would write to European Council President Donald Tusk requesting “a bit more time” for Britain to approve a divorce deal with the EU, delaying departure past the scheduled date of March 29.
Parliament last week voted for a three-month delay to the end of June, but some EU leaders have suggested another two years might be necessary.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds told the BBC on Wednesday that a shorter delay is the right option.
Hinds said the process has already gone on for more than two years, “and I think people are a bit tired of waiting for Parliament to get our act together and get the deal passed.”
British lawmakers have twice rejected the Brexit deal May has struck with the bloc. Her troubles deepened when the Speaker of the House of Commons ruled earlier this week that she can’t ask Parliament to vote on the deal again unless it is substantially changed. That scuttled May’s plan to try a third time to get the agreement approved.
If Parliament backed the deal, May had planned to ask the bloc for an extension until June 30 in order for the necessary legislation to pass for Britain’s departure.
May has warned opponents that a failure to approve her agreement would mean a long, and possibly indefinite, delay to Britain’s departure from the EU.
She is unwilling to ask for a long extension, which would infuriate the pro-Brexit wing of her divided Conservative Party.
But opponents said a delay of just a few months could leave Britain once again facing a cliff-edge “no-deal” Brexit this summer.
“Theresa May is desperate once again to impose a binary choice between her deal and no deal despite Parliament clearly ruling out both of those options last week,” said Labour Party Brexit spokesperson Keri Starmer.
Alison McGovern, another opposition Labour lawmaker, requested an emergency debate in Parliament on Brexit, seeking to challenge May’s reported pursuit of a short delay.
McGovern’s office said the so-called SO24 emergency debate motion would be a very short statement on Brexit and would be aimed at securing a debate in Parliament. It is not clear if that would trigger a vote.
It is up to Parliament’s speaker to decide whether to press ahead with the move, after which McGovern would make a three-minute speech on the case for such a debate and then parliament would have to agree that the debate should take place.
‘Clear ideas’ needed, EU official says
A delay to Britain’s withdrawal requires the approval of all 27 remaining EU countries. The head of the bloc’s executive branch said EU leaders are unlikely to agree to a delay at a summit this week.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said if May wants a delay, “she must bring approval of the negotiated deal and she must bring clear ideas on timing.”
“My impression is … that this week at the European Council there will be no decision, but that we will probably have to meet again next week, because Mrs. May doesn’t have agreement to anything, either in her cabinet or in Parliament,” Juncker told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio.
“As long as we don’t know what Britain could say yes to, we can’t reach a decision.”
Britain’s political chaos is exasperating EU leaders.
Juncker said “in all probability” Britain won’t leave on March 29, but he underlined the EU’s insistence that it will not reopen the painstakingly negotiated withdrawal agreement that British lawmakers have snubbed.
“There will be no renegotiations, no new negotiations and no additional assurances on top of the additional assurances we have already given,” he said.
Juncker said Parliament needed to decide whether it would approve the deal that is on the table.
“If that doesn’t happen, and if Great Britain does not leave at the end of March, then we are, I am sorry to say, in the hands of God,” he said. “And I think even God sometimes reaches a limit to his patience.”
This story originally appeared on CBC