EU leaders struggled to agree a united response to Theresa Mays request for a delay to Brexit as discussions dragged on well past the time allotted in the European Council summit program.
According to diplomats briefed on the debate in the room, leaders proposed various end dates including May 22, just before the European Parliament election and May 7, just before an EU summit in Sibiu, Romania.
“So many dates, its like Tinder,” said one exasperated diplomat.
After questioning the U.K. prime minister over her request for a technical extension until June 30 for an hour and 45 minutes, leaders continued their discussion well past the scheduled start of dinner. A press conference involving Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was cancelled and leaders eventually took a short break at 8.45 p.m. having failed to find an agreement.
The extended discussion also meant the key topic for discussion over dinner — China — had to be abandoned.
Earlier, Tusk had proposed May 22 as the new Brexit date, with no further delay possible if Britain does not take part in the European election, according to draft conclusions of the summit seen by POLITICO.
“The European Council commits to agreeing, before 29 March 2019, to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week,” the draft conclusions read.
“Given that the United Kingdom does not intend to hold elections to the European Parliament, no extension is possible beyond that date.”
The pointed reference to May closing off the possibility of U.K. participation in the EU election highlighted the dismay among EU27 leaders that the British prime minister did not at least leave open the path toward a longer extension.
But as the discussion continued, leaders proposed dropping the requirement for the deal to pass the House of Commons next week.
“When May left the meeting, the debate among EU27 was mainly focused not on the date itself but rather should the U.K. be required to have the deal passed next week,” one diplomat said. “Countries seem now to be OK with no conditionality including France. Definitely the fact that [Irish PM Leo] Varadkar supported it was a factor.”
Ratification of the deal next week by the House of Commons is looking increasingly unlikely, with many MPs irked by a statement May gave last night in which she blamed them for the Brexit impasse.
In the draft conclusions, the Council once again declares that the EU will not renegotiate the divorce terms included in the Withdrawal Agreement that they agreed with May back in November. “The European Council reiterates that there can be no opening of the Withdrawal Agreement that was agreed between the Union and the United Kingdom in November 2018,” the draft conclusions state.
One portion of Mays letter on Wednesday that troubled EU leaders was her declaration that intends to issue a an additional policy statRead More