May Asks for Brexit Extension Until June 30; EU Offers a Year

Prime Minister Theresa May addresses Parliament on Wednesday, still without a solid plan for Great Britain to leave the European Union. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday requested a further Brexit extension from the European Union until June 30 to give the U.K. breathing room, since it is scheduled to leave in just one week.

In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, May said that “the United Kingdom proposes that this period should end on 30 June, 2019” and agreed to make contingency plans to take part in European Parliament elections in late May.

Tusk on Friday proposed a longer time frame. He urged the 27 remaining EU nations to offer the U.K. a flexible extension of up to a year to make sure the nation doesn’t crash out of the bloc in a chaotic and costly way. 

Two EU officials, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to disclose information before it was made public, said that Tusk wants a one-year “Flextention” and get it approved at next Wednesday’s EU summit.

Such a move would mean that the U.K. needs to take part in the May 23-26 European elections, something which the U.K. prime minister has long argued against. 

Any extension to the deadline will need unanimous approval from the 27 remaining EU nations. French President Emmanuel Macron has thus far seemed cautious about giving Britain more time, saying the EU cannot be held hostage by Britain’s political deadlock over Brexit.

The complex maneuvering comes as Britain’s Parliament considers legislation designed to prevent a “no-deal” departure from the EU, currently set for April 12.

There are concerns that an abrupt departure could lead to economic slowdown and a breakdown in food and medical supplies as border checks and tariffs are added overnight.

Britain’s House of Lords is to resume debate on the measure Monday. It was endorsed by the House of Commons by just one vote.

EU leaders agreed late last month to prolong the Brexit date from March 29 until April 12, unless May could push their mutually agreed divorce deal through Parliament.

The Europeans would prefer that Britain not take part in the European Parliament elections if it is going to leave. April 12 is the last day for Britain to signal whether it will field candidates.

May said in her letter that Britain is reluctantly ready to begin preparations for the European elections if no Brexit deal is reached in the interim.

She said she is making these preparations even though she believes it is not in Britain’s interest or the EU’s interest for Britain to take part in the elections because it is a departing member state.

May says she “accepts” the EU position that if Britain has not left the 28-nation bloc by May 23 it will have a legal obligation to take part in the elections.

The prime minister says she is still hopeful of reaching a compromise agreement that could take Britain out of the EU before that time.

May says it is “frustrating” that Britain has not resolved the situation. Her withdrawal plan, agreed with the EU over more than two years of negotiations, has been rejected by Parliament three times, leading to the political and legal impasse.

Now she is seeking a compromise in a series of talks with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and his deputies with hopes of winning opposition backing for new divorce plans.

If that doesn’t work, May plans a series of votes in Parliament to see if a majority-backed plan can emerge.

Ideas being discussed include keeping Britain in a customs union with the EU after it leaves the bloc, as well as the possibility of a second referendum.

There is fierce opposition from Conservative Party Brexit-backers to these options.

Britain voted by a 52% to 48% margin in 2016 to leave the bloc.

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