EU leaders want clarity from Britain before any Brexit delay

LONDON • European Union leaders last Friday sought clarity from Britain before they begin to consider any delay to Brexit, after a series of chaotic votes by MPs just two weeks before the deeply divided country is due to leave the bloc.

Quitting the EU after 46 years on March 29 remains the legal default unless EU leaders unanimously grant Britain an extension, with the issue likely to dominate a March 21-22 EU summit in Brussels.

The length of any possible delay will depend on the outcome of another parliamentary vote on the twice massively rejected Brexit deal struck by Prime Minister Theresa May with EU leaders.

The government said it would ask for a "technical" delay until June 30 to pass necessary legislation if MPs finally approve the deal this week.

If MPs vote against it for a third time, the government has warned that it will have to seek a much longer extension.

"It is very clear that the next steps, the next proposal on how to move forward must come from Britain," German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin.

The government said it would ask for a "technical" delay until June 30 to pass necessary legislation if MPs finally approve the deal this week. If MPs vote against it for a third time, the government has warned it will have to seek a much longer extension.

French President Emmanuel Macron's office said that if the current deal is rejected again, "a clear and new alternative plan" must be presented or else Britain would have to leave the EU with no agreement.

The British government is hoping that talk of a long delay to Brexit will persuade hardliners in Ms May's own Conservative Party and its ally, the Democratic Unionist Party, to get behind her deal.

Opinion polls, meanwhile, have shown growing support among Britons for leaving the EU without a deal, despite warnings from political and business leaders.

EU leaders have hinted that they could support a longer delay only if Britain were to drop its red lines, particularly its insistence on leaving the EU Customs union so as to pursue an independent trade policy.

Lawmakers voted against the deal for a second time last Tuesday but then voted against leaving the EU without a deal the next day.

The following day, MPs voted to ask EU leaders to simply push Brexit back in a bid to head off a hugely disruptive end to their partnership.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 17, 2019, with the headline 'EU leaders want clarity from Britain before any Brexit delay'. Print Edition | Subscribe