May wrote to European Council President Donald Tusk on Friday and requested that EU leaders postpone the deadline for when the UK has to leave the bloc from April 12 until June 30. May said she sought another delay because she’s working to find a compromise with opposition Labour leaders and she’s encouraging other members of Parliament to “work with me to achieve consensus.”
This is the second time May has asked for a June 30 Brexit delay — and just like the last time, it’s likely going to be rejected outright by EU leaders.
Tusk, in fact, has already offered a counterproposal: a one-year “flextension.” The European Council president proposed pushing the Brexit deadline a full year, until March 31, 2020. But that would include something of an exit clause: If the UK managed to approve a Brexit withdrawal agreement (something it’s failed to do three times already), it could leave the EU earlier.
The decision whether to grant a “flextension” is ultimately up to the 27 other EU member states — and it’s not clear if they’ll all be into this plan. Some countries, such as France, have insisted that if the UK wants more time, it has to offer a concrete plan for what it’s going to do to overcome the political impasse.
“We need to understand the extension. What for?” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters. “If we are not able to understand the reason for why the UK is asking for an extension, we can’t get a positive answer. It’s up to the British government to give an answer to that key question.”
That’s not exactly a good sign for May, who wrote in her letter that her plan is to still pass her Brexit deal by building support for it with input from the Labour Party and MPs. It’s not exactly a new strategy.
A longer extension will also require the UK to participate in European parliamentary elections between May 23 and 26. May wants to avoid this — which is why she asked for a short extension — because it costs the UK money and is politically problematic for her and her Conservative Party. But she acknowledged in her letter to Tusk that the UK was under legal obligation to participate in those elections as an EU member, and that her government was making the necessary preparations, just in case.
May, then, looks like she might be asking for a short extension for her political audience back home, while not exactly expecting the EU to be so conciliatory.
And EU leaders are exasperated with May and the UK’s indecision, and they may be more reluctant to grant an extension this time around.
Postponing Brexit keeps everyone in a state of uncertainty, and the UK, so far, has failed to break the Brexit deadlock in any meaningful way. More time also doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, which has the potential to cause massive trade disruptions and economic shock.
The EU is far more prepared and more insulated than the UK from the chaos, but a disorderly breakup still has the potential to plunge the continent into crisis.
EU leaders will meet April 10 at an emergency summit in Brussels, where they’ll likely debate and act on May’s request — including if (and that’s a big “if”) she reaches a revised Brexit plan with Labour. The EU will be making any decision with the Brexit deadline just two days away.