EU may accept May's proposal of a short Brexit delay, say officials

British PM Theresa May and European Council president Donald Tusk meeting on Sunday on the sidelines of an EU-Arab summit in Egypt.
British PM Theresa May and European Council president Donald Tusk meeting on Sunday on the sidelines of an EU-Arab summit in Egypt.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BRUSSELS • Two European Union officials have offered early positive reaction to British Prime Minister Theresa May's suggestion yesterday of a possible short delay to Britain's departure from the bloc on March 29.

"If a request for a delay of the Brexit date is submitted, it would be considered favourably," a senior EU official said yesterday. "We have not seen a request but an extension of a couple of months would be relatively straightforward."

Another EU official said it was "good to see rational arguments being heard" in Britain, after the bloc's leaders told Mrs May that an extension of the time limit to negotiate Britain's divorce was the only way forward through the impasse.

Mrs May promised yesterday to allow Parliament to delay Brexit by up to three months so that Britain would not crash out of the EU on March 29 without a deal.

Opening up the possibility of taking a no-deal off the table marks one of the biggest turning points in the United Kingdom's labyrinthine Brexit crisis since the shock 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.

The dramatic reversal in Mrs May's steadfast Brexit strategy came after threats of mass resignations from her own ministers and calls for a second referendum on Britain's EU membership from the main opposition Labour Party, as the country remains as divided as ever over Brexit.

European Council president Donald Tusk said on Monday he had discussed the "legal and procedural context of a potential extension" when he met Mrs May a day earlier on the sidelines of an EU-Arab summit in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh.

 
 
 

"I believe in the situation we are in, an extension would be a rational solution but Prime Minister May still believes she's able to avoid this scenario," Mr Tusk told a closing summit press conference.

The EU has been watching with growing alarm the possibility that Britain will crash out of the bloc without a deal, risking chaos on both sides of the Channel.

The Labour Party had raised the pressure on Monday, saying it would put forward its own plan for Brexit, which calls for Britain to stay in the EU customs union. It said if its plan was rejected, it would lend its support to an amendment on holding a second referendum on EU membership - without specifying a date.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2019, with the headline 'EU may accept May's proposal of a short Brexit delay, say officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe