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May agrees to October Brexit after Franco-German carve-up

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11/04/2019 Daniel Boffey and Rowena Mason

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May attends an extraordinary European Union leaders summit to discuss Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium April 10, 2019.  Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS © Thomson Reuters Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May attends an extraordinary European Union leaders summit to discuss Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium April 10, 2019. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS Britain will remain as a member state of the EU until 31 October, with the option to leave earlier if Theresa May can secure Commons support for the Brexit deal, after a Franco-German carve-up of the UK’s future.

A marathon six-hour debate among the EU leaders concluded with the prime minister being offered a longer extension than she had sought but providing a new autumn no deal cliff-edge to focus minds in Westminster.

The EU would also hold a symbolic June summit to review the UK’s behaviour as a member state following an outspoken intervention by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, about the need to avoid a “rogue” Britain undermining the European project.

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MPs are gradually moving towards cancelling Brexit (Business Insider)

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Video: May and Merkel share a chuckle over a Brexit meme on an iPad (Evening Standard)

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UP NEXT

Macron had sought to maintain the pressure on Britain to act with an “enhanced duty of sincere cooperation” during the extra period of membership following the threats from Brexiters, including Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, that the UK could seek to disrupt the bloc from within.

The Halloween deadline provides an opportunity for the EU to bring Brexit to an end before the conclusion of Jean-Claude Juncker’s tenure as European commission president in November. British MEPs would need to be elected on the 23 May if the Commons had not passed the withdrawal agreement by then.

There would likely remain the possibility of the British government extending membership again until 31 March 2020 if necessary, EU sources said.

European Council President Donald Tusk, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel look at a tablet ahead of a European Council meeting on Brexit at the Europa Building at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium April 10, 2019. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS © Thomson Reuters European Council President Donald Tusk, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel look at a tablet ahead of a European Council meeting on Brexit at the Europa Building at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium April 10, 2019. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS The prime minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, tweeted: “A Brexit extension until 31 October is sensible since it gives time to UK to finally choose its way. The review in June will allow [European council] to take stock of the situation”.

The compromise autumn date was carved out after the EU’s Franco-German engine found itself divided over how to deal with Britain’s political crisis. A senior EU source described it as “26 to one”.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had clashed with Macron, both over Berlin’s insistence that May’s government can be trusted, and that a no-deal scenario should not be risked by offering up only a short delay such as one ending on 30 June, as requested by the British prime minister.

Brexit in-depth: The latest news, analysis and expert opinion

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin, Germany, April 10, 2019.   REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke © Thomson Reuters German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin, Germany, April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke Merkel argued that a short delay would not offer any prospect of the impasse in Westminster being broken and the delay should instead end on 31 December. She had claimed that the biggest incentive for Conservative MPs to back the deal lay in the threat of having to hold European elections due to a failure to complete Brexit.

But Macron warned against such a long extension, arguing that a no-deal threat should remain and that there were insufficient guarantees that the British government would act as a responsible member state. Sources suggested Paris had “gone in hard”, and forced EU capitals towards the shorter date.

The French president also insisted on the redrafting of the EU’s summit communique, writing in that the UK – during any extra time as a member state – would have to “refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the union’s objectives, in particular when participating in the decision-making processes of the union”, according to a leak obtained by the Guardian.

The EU27 also emphasised their right to meet without the UK on key long-term decisions.

The differences between Paris and Berlin had been evident earlier in the day when Merkel told the Bundestag that May was likely to get a longer extension than she needed, while Macron told reporters on arrival at the summit that “nothing had been decided”, dismissing talk of a long extension as rumours.

French President Emmanuel Macron talks to the media as he arrives at an extraordinary European Union leaders summit to discuss Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium April 10, 2019.  REUTERS/Eva Plevier © Thomson Reuters French President Emmanuel Macron talks to the media as he arrives at an extraordinary European Union leaders summit to discuss Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Eva Plevier Macron insisted on clarity from May about what Britain wants, warning: “Nothing should compromise the European project.”

The Guardian understands that May had not pushed back against the suggestion of a long extension in her one-hour address to the other 27 leaders before their debate, instead insisting that her priority was to be able to leave once the withdrawal agreement was approved.

The prime minister also asked the leaders to avoid a situation in which she would have to return to Brussels to ask for a further extension.

As EU leaders had gathered to discuss an extension to article 50 of about nine months, May publicly dropped her promise not to allow a delay to Brexit beyond 30 June while she was prime minister.

Sources said she would abide by her decision to step down only once a Brexit deal with the EU had been passed by parliament, meaning she looks likely to stay on and keep trying to push through a withdrawal agreement for as long as it takes.

Arriving at the talks, May signalled she would accept a much longer delay from EU leaders – expected to be nine to 12 months – as long as there was a “break clause” allowing the UK to leave as soon as MPs approve a deal with a meaningful vote.

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“What matters, I think, is I have asked for an extension to 30 June but what is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point at which we ratify a withdrawal agreement. So we could leave on 22 May and start to build our brighter future,” she said.

The six-month extension is politically explosive for May because she had promised that “as prime minister” she would not countenance any delay beyond June 30 that would involve the UK having to take part in European elections.

Eurosceptics will also be furious that six months is not enough time

to replace her as Conservative leader and use the remaining extension for a “reset” of Brexit strategy – through an attempt at fresh negotiations or gaining parliamentary backing for a no-deal exit through a general election.

In contrast, it would be enough time for May to negotiate a softer Brexit compromise either with Labour or parliament more widely involving a customs union or even a second referendum.

The Guardian understands that the Conservative party rules that protect May from a leadership challenge until 12 December had been a motivating factor in the offer of a lengthy Brexit delay.

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