Macron says Britain would have to justify delaying Brexit

British parliament to vote on proposals that may postpone leaving EU until end of June

President Emmanuel Macron and  Chancellor Angela Merkel pictured following talks at Elysee Palace in Paris. Photograph: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel pictured following talks at Elysee Palace in Paris. Photograph: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg


French president Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday the European Union would only agree to extend the Brexit deadline if Britain justified a delay with a clear objective and new choices.

The UK is due to leave on March 29th but Prime Minister Theresa May has so far failed to get parliament to ratify the deal she agreed in November. On Tuesday, she opened up the possibility of a delay until the end of June.

“If the British need more time, we would support an extension request if it was justified by new choices from the British,” Mr Macron told a joint news briefing with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris.

“But we would in no way accept an extension without a clear view on the objective pursued,” he added. “As our negotiator Michel Barnier said, we don’t need more time, we need decisions.”

French officials have said Paris would agree to delay Brexit only if that came with a credible solution, for example if Britain called an election, held a second referendum, or presented a new plan that was acceptable to all sides but needed more time to be finalised.

Ms Merkel said she was “totally on the same line” as Mr Macron but appeared more willing to show flexibility.

“If Britain needs some more time, we won’t refuse but we are striving for an orderly solution such as an orderly exit of Britain from the European Union,” she said. “We regret this step but it is reality and we must now find a good solution.”

Deal or delay

After months of saying that Britain must leave the EU on March 29th, either with her deal or with no deal at all, Mrs May made major shifts on Tuesday under pressure from MPs who accused her of running out the clock.

She will hold a vote within two weeks on her deal, and said that if it fails she will offer MPs chances to vote on whether to leave with no deal, or to ask the EU for a delay.

Those concessions took much of the heat out of a series of votes in parliament planned for Wednesday, in which opposition MPs and rebels in Mr May’s Conservative Party had planned to demand more control to rule out leaving with no deal.

British lawmakers were still due to vote on other possible measures later on Wednesday, such as an opposition Labour Party proposal for a permanent customs union with the EU.

Labour, which until now has formally backed Brexit, has said this week that if its motion fails it will swing behind calls for a new referendum, a major shift by party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

That could give opponents of exiting the EU their biggest chance to stop it since the 2016 vote in which 52 per cent of Britons backed leaving, although there is still no majority in parliament for a new referendum.

The big shifts on Brexit by both Mrs May and Mr Corbyn this week come amid deepening divisions within both major parties as the Brexit deadline approaches. – Reuters

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