EU and Britain agree to Brexit delay until Oct. 31

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EU and Britain agree to Brexit delay until Oct. 31

by - 3 min read

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The European Union and British Prime Minister Theresa May have agreed to delay Brexit once again — this time until the end of October.

Leaders of the 27 remaining EU member states met for more than six hours before agreeing early Thursday morning to postpone Brexit until Oct. 31.

May, who had sought a delay only until June 30, agreed to the later date. 

EU leaders spent a long dinner meeting wrangling over whether to save Britain from a precipitous and potentially calamitous Brexit this Friday, or to give the departing nation a shove over the edge.

May pleaded with them to delay Britain’s exit until June 30 while the U.K. sorts out the mess that Brexit has become.

EU Council President Donald Tusk earlier suggested an even longer delay of up to a year with conditions attached to ensure Britain does not stymie EU decision-making if it remains a member.

Some EU leaders were sympathetic, but French President Emmanuel Macron struck a warning note.

French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly sought some specific assurances from May earlier this week if an extension was to be offered. (Eva Plevier/Reuters)

Macron is concerned that letting Britain stay too long would distract the EU from other issues — notably next month’s European Parliament elections.

“What’s indispensable is that nothing should compromise the European project in the months to come,” he said.

May believed that a June 30 deadline would be enough time for Britain’s Parliament to ratify a Brexit deal and pass the legislation needed for a smooth Brexit.

But British lawmakers have rejected her divorce deal three times, and attempts to forge a compromise with her political opponents have yet to bear fruit.

An anti-Brexit campaigner holds a sign in front of an EU flag during a protest outside EU headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday. (Francisco Seco/Associated Press)

Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas said his country supports an extension and that the EU “must do all that we can” to prevent the U.K. being out of the EU without a withdrawal deal or transition period.

Ratas’s comments were essentially echoed by Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, while Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis appeared to go further, saying, “For me, the proposal to last until the end of March next year is fine.”

Several leaders said they would require assurances of good behavior in return for another delay.

‘A Trojan Horse within the EU’

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the EU leaders’ decision would hinge on “what her plan is now to get that withdrawal agreement through Parliament, and how we can get guarantees that in the meantime the United Kingdom will stay as a loyal partner.”

The British government insists it won’t be obstructive, since it wants to keep close ties to the bloc. But pro-Brexit British politicians have said Britain should be disruptive. Conservative lawmaker Mark Francois said that if the U.K. remained in the bloc, “then in return we will become a Trojan Horse within the EU.”

Despite the new agreement, May’s future is uncertain. 

May’s deal-making attempts flounder

She has said that “as prime minister” she could not agree to let Britain stay in the EU beyond June 30, and she has also promised to step down once Brexit is delivered. Many Conservative Party lawmakers would like her to quit now and let a new leader take charge of the next stage of Brexit. But they can’t force her out until the end of the year, after she survived a no-confidence vote in December.

Every British initiative to get a deal has floundered. Several days of talks between May’s Conservative government and the main opposition Labour Party aimed at finding a compromise have failed to produce a breakthrough. Labour favours a softer Brexit than the government has proposed, and wants to retain a close economic relationship with the bloc. The two sides said they would resume their discussions Thursday.

Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, whose country shares a border with the U.K. and would be among the hardest hit by a no-deal Brexit, said Britain was in “a difficult position.”

“It doesn’t want to leave without a deal; at the moment it doesn’t want to vote for the deal. And of course a lot of people, maybe even half the population, don’t want to leave at all,” he said.

This story originally appeared on CBC

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