Britain could be trapped in the EU until 2020 with Brussels leaders planning a long delay
At a crunch summit in Brussels on Wednesday, the Prime Minister is expected to be told a “lengthy” postponement of the country’s departure date is necessary because of Parliament’s refusal to back her proposed exit deal. She also faces being asked to sign up to a string of conditions including ruling out any attempt to reopen negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement repeatedly rejected by MPs. Tory MPs were furious at the expected “lengthy” delay. Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of Tory backbench Eurosceptics, said: “This shows that the EU has no interest in democracy and expects voters to be cowed into obedience.”
Top Eurocrat Donald Tusk has used a letter to EU leaders on the eve of the summit to suggest the Brexit “rethink”.
“In the event of a continued stalemate, such a longer extension would allow the UK to rethink its Brexit strategy,” he said.
He warned that Mrs May’s request for a short Brexit delay until June 30 at the latest was unrealistic.
“Our experience so far, as well as the deep divisions within the House of Commons, give us little reason to believe that the ratification process can be completed by the end of June,” he wrote.
Mr Tusk, the EU Council President, said a series of short extensions and more emergency summit would create too much uncertainty and could lead to a no-deal Brexit.
He called for “an alternative, longer extension” instead, and said Mrs May would have to agree that Britain will not disrupt EU business during the extension or seek to reopen negotiations in the hope of changing the Withdrawal Agreement.
“One possibility would be a flexible extension, which would last only as long as necessary and no longer than one year, as beyond that date we will need to decide unanimously on some key European projects.”
Mr Tusk also used his letter to urge EU leaders not to gloat at the UK’s predicament.
“Whatever course of action is taken, it must not be influenced by negative emotions,” he wrote.
“We should treat the UK with the highest respect, as we want to remain friends and close partners, and as we will still need to agree on our future relations.
“Neither side should be allowed to feel humiliated at any stage in this difficult process.”
Mrs May’s plea for a shorter delay was rebuffed by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday.
Theresa May hobnobbed with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron todday
In a last-ditch diplomatic tour, the Prime Minister flew to Berlin and Paris yesterday two try to persuade them to accept her short extension plan.
She was desperate for the UK to leave the EU by the end of June to avoid the country having to stage elections for a new cohort of British MEPs to sit in the European Parliament.
But both leaders were unsympathetic to her plea.
Over a working lunch in Berlin, Mrs Merkel suggested a Brexit delay until 2020 was her preference.
In Paris yesterday evening, President Macron told her the UK should stay in the EU at least until Christmas.
Emmanuel Macron is one of the tougher opponents Theresa May is facing in Brussels
He is also understood to be pressing for “compliance checks” to ensure the UK observes the conditions set on the extension.
Mrs May’s spokesman yesterday insisted the Prime Minister did not want the UK to stay in the EU any longer than June 30.
He said: “If you look at what the PM has proposed in her letter, she asked for an extension to June 30 at the latest.
“A very important part of that request is that if we are able to reach an agreement domestically by May 22, we would be able to leave at that point.
“That is very important because we wouldn’t have to contest European elections, which the Prime Minister doesn’t believe is in the best interest of the UK.”
Dismissing the concerns Britain could disrupt EU business, the spokesman added: “The UK has engaged constructively with the EU all the way through the negotiating process. The EU has done the same with the UK. I wouldn’t foresee any reason for that to change.”
Ahead of Mrs May’s diplomatic tour, Brexiteer Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom broke ranks to urge EU leaders to allow a renegotiation of the exit deal to ensure a “proper Brexit”.
The Commons leader said: “It would be fantastic if Angela Merkel will try to support a proper UK Brexit by agreeing to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.
“There have been rumours over the weekend some senior members of the German government would be willing to do that in order to get Theresa May’s deal over the line.
“As the person with the responsibility to get the legislation through, if we get the Prime Minister’s deal over the line because the EU has decided to support measures on the backstop, that would be the best possible outcome.”
The European Union’s second Brexit delay could go on until March 30, 2020, an official with the bloc said, as 27 national envoys were preparing for a leaders’ summit on Wednesday that is due to decide on the matter.