PARIS – British Prime Minister Theresa May toured Berlin and Paris on Tuesday to plead for an extension to the deadline for Brexit, which looked increasingly likely to be approved by EU leaders at a crunch meeting in Brussels.
May has asked for a second extension to the deadline for Britain’s exit from the European Union from April 12 to June 30, which is set to be discussed by her EU partners on Wednesday.
After flying to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, May went to Paris and visited French President Emmanuel Macron, who is seen as a hardliner in the negotiations and a key voice at the EU negotiating table.
Having raised doubts about whether an extension would be granted last week, meaning that Britain could crash out of the bloc without a deal, an aide to the French president underlined Tuesday that France was open to solutions.
“We’ve never been closed to the idea of finding an alternative solution to ‘no deal’ within certain limits and not at any price,” the aide said on condition of anonymity.
Discussions in Brussels are set to focus on conditions such as length — the French aide said a 12-month extension “seems too long” — and arrangements to limit Britain’s influence within the EU during this time.
“There would be a transition period for the United Kingdom as an intermediary member, which is present and applying the rules, but not taking part in decision making,” the aide said.
“There would need to be clear commitments and then a mechanism for monitoring them,” the aide added.
EU members are keen to ensure Britain does not have a say on issues such as the next head of the European Commission, which will be decided shortly, or the next five-year budget for the EU.
Briefing MPs from her CDU-CSU conservative bloc after she hosted May in Berlin, Merkel said the option of a Brexit deadline in early 2020 would be discussed at the EU summit, according to a source.
May is hoping the extra time, if granted by EU leaders, will enable her to finally get a divorce deal through parliament.
British MPs have rejected a deal May negotiated with the EU three times, but the PM is now in talks with the opposition Labour party to try break the deadlock.
These discussions are moving slowly, and EU negotiator Michel Barnier said May must explain in Brussels what another postponement would achieve.
“The length of the extension must be linked to the purpose — what it’s for — and that depends on what Mrs May will say to European leaders tomorrow,” he told reporters after a meeting of EU ministers in Luxembourg.
A “no deal” — in which Britain crashes out of the EU — is still a possibility, but expectations of an extension helped lift the value of the pound on financial markets on Tuesday.
“There will be a real discussion. Things have not been written in advance,” the French aide said of the leaders’ summit in Brussels, adding that a “no deal” could not be ruled out.
The International Monetary Fund said Tuesday that Britain risks a serious shock if it leaves the EU without an agreement.
Ahead of the main EU summit on Wednesday, Belgium will host a meeting of the EU members most exposed to the dangers of a no-deal Brexit ahead of the main meeting such as France and the Netherlands.
EU ministers no longer hide their irritation at the turmoil in London, where MPs cannot agree on how to leave the EU almost three years after the referendum vote for Brexit.
“We are in a very, very frustrating situation here,” said Germany’s Europe minister, Michael Roth, as he arrived in Luxembourg on Tuesday.
May had requested only a short delay to avoid having to take part in European Parliament elections, which are scheduled for May 26, but a longer postponement would mean Britain participating.
EU Council President Donald Tusk’s office has floated the idea of a “flexible” extension of up to a year, with an option for London to leave earlier if it finds a way through, but there is no agreement on this.
May’s chances of success hinge on either rebel MPs in her Conservative party and her Northern Irish allies backing her deal at the fourth time of asking, or a compromise with the opposition Labour party.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Monday he was still waiting for signs of compromise from May and talks have been suspended until the summit in Brussels.
His top team was meeting Tuesday with some of May’s senior ministers, including leading Brexit supporter Michael Gove and her more pro-European finance minister Philip Hammond.p