British PM asks EU for 3-month delay to Brexit

Pro-Brexit campaigners outside Parliament in London yesterday. British Prime Minister Theresa May has written to European Council president Donald Tusk to request a delay to Brexit until June 30.
Pro-Brexit campaigners outside Parliament in London yesterday. British Prime Minister Theresa May has written to European Council president Donald Tusk to request a delay to Brexit until June 30.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

May plans 3rd vote on departure deal; EU set to discuss request

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May requested a three-month delay to Brexit yesterday after her failure to get a deal ratified by Parliament left the United Kingdom's divorce from the European Union in turmoil.

Nearly three years after Britain voted to leave the EU, and nine days before the formal exit deadline, British politicians are still arguing over how, when, or even if, the world's fifth-largest economy should leave the bloc it first joined in 1973.

When Mrs May set the March 29 exit date two years ago by serving the formal Article 50 divorce papers, she declared there would be "no turning back", but Parliament's refusal to ratify the withdrawal deal she agreed with the EU has thrust her government into crisis.

Now, Mrs May has written to European Council president Donald Tusk to ask for a delay until June 30.

"As prime minister I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than the 30th of June," Mrs May told a rowdy session of Parliament.

"I have therefore this morning written to President Tusk, the president of the European Council, informing him that the UK seeks an extension to the Article 50 period until the 30th of June," she said.

She said she planned to ask Parliament to vote a third time on her departure deal, which lawmakers have already voted down twice. She did not say when the vote would happen.

 
 
 

The opposition Labour Party said that by choosing a short delay, Mrs May was forcing British lawmakers to decide between accepting a deal they have already rejected twice or crashing out of the EU without a deal.

Pro-Brexit members of Mrs May's Conservative Party are opposed to a longer delay because they fear this could mean that Brexit might never happen.

For its part, the EU said any extension should either be until May 23 or "significantly longer" and require Britain to take part in European elections in May. The Prime Minister said it was not in Britain's interests to take part in European elections.

An EU Commission document seen by Reuters said the EU should offer Britain just one extension as multiple delays would leave the bloc in limbo.

Early support for Mrs May's request for an extension came from Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

While Britain remains divided over Brexit, most agree that it will shape the economic future of generations to come and, if it goes badly, could undermine the West and threaten London's position as the dominant global financial capital.

EU leaders are expected to discuss Mrs May's request for a Brexit delay at a summit in Brussels today and tomorrow.

European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU had done much to accommodate Britain and can go no further.

"There will be no renegotiations, no new negotiations, no additional guarantees in addition to those already given," Mr Juncker told Germany's Deutschlandfunk radio.

"We have intensively moved towards Britain; there can be no more."

REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2019, with the headline 'British PM asks EU for 3-month delay to Brexit'. Print Edition | Subscribe