Theresa May asks to delay Brexit until June 30, but EU offers conditional response
'Positive vote' on deal in British Parliament required, Donald Tusk says
British Prime Minister Theresa May says she asked the European Union on Wednesday to delay the country's divorce from the bloc until June 30.
"As prime minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than the 30th of June," May told a rowdy session of Parliament.
"I have therefore this morning written to [European Council] president [Donald] Tusk, the president of the European Council, informing him that the U.K. seeks an extension to the Article 50 period until the 30th June," she said.
"The government intends to bring forward proposals for a third meaningful vote. If that vote is passed, the extension will give the House [of Commons] time to consider the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. If not, the House will have to decide how to proceed."
Watch May tell Parliament about her Brexit delay request:
In response, Tusk gave a tentative greenlight to Britain's request to delay Brexit — but said EU approval comes with a condition.
Tusk said Wednesday "that a short extension will be possible, but it will be conditional on a positive vote" in British Parliament on the Brexit agreement May reached with the EU.
Tusk says May's petition for a withdrawal date of June 30 instead of March 29 poses legal and political issues since elections for the EU Parliament are being held May 23-26.
He stressed that the existing Brexit deal won't be reopened, though says he doesn't see a problem with May's March 11 agreement with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker that provided some extra guarantees.
Tusk is set to chair a summit of EU nation leaders on Thursday.
In an address to the public later from 10 Downing Street, May called the delay "a matter of great personal regret," and said she is absolutely sure the public has had enough of the infighting and political games.
"It is now time for MPs to decide," she said. "So far, Parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice... All MPs have been willing to say is what they do not want. I passionately hope MPs will find a way to back the deal I have negotiated with the EU."
May's announcement prompted an uproar in Parliament, where the Labour Party accused her of "blackmail, bullying and bribery" in her attempts to push her deal through, and one prominent pro-Brexit supporter in her own Conservative Party said seeking a delay was "betraying the British people."
Opposition politicians, and pro-EU members of May's Conservative government, had urged a longer extension, saying a delay of just a few months could leave Britain once again facing a cliff-edge "no-deal" Brexit this summer.
But a long extension would infuriate the pro-Brexit wing of May's divided party and require Britain to participate in the late May election for the European Parliament.
May said that would be unacceptable, adding a longer delay would result in Parliament spending "endless hours contemplating its navel on Brexit."
British Prime Minister Theresa May officially asks EU Council President Donald Tusk to delay Brexit until June 30. <a href="https://t.co/Dg4nUBpfEL">pic.twitter.com/Dg4nUBpfEL</a>—@thomasdaigle
Britain voted in June 2016 to quit the EU, but almost three years later, its politicians are deadlocked over how — and even whether — to leave.
British lawmakers have twice rejected the Brexit deal May has struck with the bloc. Her troubles deepened when the Speaker of the House of Commons ruled earlier this week that she can't ask Parliament to vote on the deal again unless it is substantially changed. That scuttled May's plan to try a third time to get the agreement approved.
May told Tusk that despite the ruling, "it remains my intention to bring the deal back to the House."
If it is approved, she plans to use the extension until June 30 in order for Parliament to pass the necessary legislation for Britain's departure.
"Today marks 1,000 days since the referendum and this government has led the country and themselves into crisis, chaos and division," said opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Delay not automatic, France says
A delay to Britain's withdrawal requires the approval of all 27 remaining EU countries, and France said the EU would not automatically grant it.
"France's position is simple: the British prime minister must explain to us for how long and what for, and offer us guarantees," French government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux told reporters.
"A delay is therefore not automatic nor certain," he said.
Griveaux said the issue had not been discussed in a cabinet meeting that was taking place when May published her letter requesting the delay.
Conversely, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson is welcoming the fact Britain has finally made a "clear request" about how to proceed on Brexit, but isn't saying how Germany will respond.
"We welcome the fact that there is now a clear request from Britain," Steffen Seibert, Merkel's spokesperson, told reporters in Berlin.
Seibert said that the request "will certainly be discussed intensively" at the summit, but wouldn't offer an opinion ahead of the talks. He said Germany remains convinced that a no-deal Brexit "would be in no one's interest."
Juncker, the head of the bloc's executive branch said EU leaders are unlikely to agree to a delay at a summit this week.
Juncker said if May wants a delay, "she must bring approval of the negotiated deal and she must bring clear ideas on timing."
"My impression is ... that this week at the European Council there will be no decision, but that we will probably have to meet again next week, because Mrs. May doesn't have agreement to anything, either in her cabinet or in Parliament," Juncker told Germany's Deutschlandfunk radio.
"As long as we don't know what Britain could say yes to, we can't reach a decision."
Juncker said "in all probability" Britain won't leave on March 29, but he underlined the EU's insistence that it will not reopen the painstakingly negotiated withdrawal agreement that British lawmakers have snubbed.
"There will be no renegotiations, no new negotiations and no additional assurances on top of the additional assurances we have already given," he said.
Juncker said Parliament needed to decide whether it would approve the deal that is on the table.
"If that doesn't happen, and if Great Britain does not leave at the end of March, then we are, I am sorry to say, in the hands of God," he said. "And I think even God sometimes reaches a limit to his patience."
A European Commission document seen by Reuters said the delay should either be several weeks shorter, to avoid a clash with European elections in May, or extend at least until the end of the year, which would oblige Britain to take part in the elections.
With files from Reuters and CBC News