British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday agreed to an EU offer of a six-month delay “flexible extension” to Brexit, EU Council President Donald Tusk said. “EU27/UK have agreed a flexible extension until Oct 31. This means additional six months for the UK to find the best possible solution,” Tusk tweeted, at the end of a summit in Brussels.
European leaders offered Britain the six-month delay to its Brexit departure apparently saving the continent from a chaotic no-deal departure at the end of week. This means London remains in the EU after May 22, British voters will have to take part in European parliamentary elections.
Prime Minister Theresa May said that Britain might still manage to execute an orderly departure from the European Union by May 22. What this extension enables us to do is to go through the process we've set up, May said.
If we're able to do that before May 22, then we won't have to hold European Parliamentary Elections.
France's President Emmanuel Macron was the strongest voice opposing a long extension, but most leaders backed it and the French had to settle for a promise that the delay will be reviewed at an EU summit on Jun 21.
Most of the 27 European leaders gathered in Brussels, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, had backed a plan for Brexit to be postponed for up to a year.
But as the talks went late into the night, Macron - with backing from Belgium, Austria and some smaller EU states - held out for a short delay of only a few weeks and demanded solid guarantees that London would not interfere in EU business during that time.
May has already said that if Britain is still an EU member when the European parliamentary election begins on May 23, UK voters will take part. But some EU leaders are unconvinced that she is sincere, despite one official telling reporters her presentation had been solid.
Without a postponement, Britain would be due to end its 46-year membership of the European Union at midnight (2200 GMT) on Friday with no deal, risking economic chaos on both sides of the Channel.
May agreed a divorce deal with the EU last November but MPs in London have rejected it three times, forcing her to turn to the main opposition Labour party in a bid to find a way through. But these talks are moving slowly, and the prime minister is under intense pressure from hard line Brexit supporters in her Conservative party not to compromise.
As she arrived, May said she wanted to leave the EU as soon as possible. I've asked for an extension to Jun 30 but what is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point at which we ratify the withdrawal agreement, she said.
She said she still hoped to leave the EU on May 22, the last day before Britain must hold European Parliament elections. For as long as Britain is in the EU, it must take part in bloc elections for them to be valid.
EU leaders have already agreed one delay to Brexit, from Mar 29 to Apr 12, and Tusk has warned there is little reason to believe the British parliament can ratify May's deal by Jun 30.