Brexit: UK prime minister Theresa May asks European Union for three month delay

One thousand days after British voters said they wanted to leave the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May conceded that she now must ask EU leaders to delay Brexit for three months – because the Parliament has failed to pass her unloved deal for departure.

Standing in Parliament on Wednesday, May blamed lawmakers for the impasse, acknowledging that the House of Commons has twice rejected the withdrawal agreement that May spent two years negotiating with her European counterparts.

May said she would seek a short extension, just three months until June 30. If the delay were longer, Britain as a member of the European Union would have to participate in elections for the European parliament.

Also, a longer delay, May warned, would provide “endless hours and days of this House carrying on, contemplating its navel on Europe.”

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The prime minister’s cutting remark was met with hoots and jeers, even by members of her own Conservative Party.

Prime Minister Theresa May is seeking a three month delay from the EU.

LEON NEAL/GETTY

Prime Minister Theresa May is seeking a three month delay from the EU.

Lawmakers have overwhelmingly rejected May’s vision for Brexit twice – and members blame her for weak leadership, bad communication, and offering a crummy deal.

In Brussels, astonished diplomats increasingly expect an extension not to be decided until late next week. EU leaders may have to convene in the waning hours before Britain crashes out of the European Union as March 29 turns to March 30, some diplomats said.

Although people involved in the negotiations said that there was little appetite to kick Britain out of the club against its will, they were increasingly fearful that further surprises in London could wind up with what one senior diplomat called “catastrophe.”

“All we have done, leading to nowhere,” said the senior EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss calculations ahead of the meeting on Thursday. “The blame game will be a very nasty one, of course. Who caused it. I think we all know the answer but it can very easily be turned against the EU”

May’s short extension request left EU leaders facing a dilemma: whether to grant the delay when they are unsure she can get the divorce deal approved by her own parliament. Many EU leaders would prefer to have certainty – or to give a longer extension, a step that would need May’s consent.

If the European Union were to offer a delay but the House of Commons then rejected the deal a third time, “then we are, I’m sorry to say, in God’s hands,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Deutschlandfunk radio, before May submitted her request. “But I think even God has a limit to his patience.”

He said that leaders would probably need to meet again next week to make final decisions about an extension.

European flags and a British Union flag placed by anti-Brexit remain in the European Union supporters are blown by the wind in London.

MATT DUNHAM/AP

European flags and a British Union flag placed by anti-Brexit remain in the European Union supporters are blown by the wind in London.

One major concern in Europe about a short extension is that if Britain failed to take part in late-May elections for the European Parliament, but then asked for yet more time at the end of June, the legal consequences could quickly hit the basic functioning of European institutions.

Any EU citizen could potentially challenge laws passed by the new European Parliament, for example, since EU treaties require that all European citizens have the chance to vote and elect representatives to the body. Diplomats also fear that if British policymakers still have a say in EU decisions, they could hold unrelated deliberations hostage to demand Brexit concessions.

The European Commission believes there are “serious risks” with a June 30 Brexit delay, according to one official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal considerations.