Theresa May’s request to extend Brexit has been left hanging in the balance by the European Union – despite earlier signals from EU leaders that they would support the extension.
Draft conclusions from a summit in Brussels on Thursday had suggested that the EU would allow the prime minister to push back the UK’s exit day to May 22 – as long as she managed to get MPs to back her Brexit deal.
But several hours after May and European Council president Donald Tusk had been set to give a press conference about the delay, EU leaders were still locked in discussions over how long the UK should be allowed to extend Article 50 for.
The Press Association reported the May 22 proposal has been torn up by the EU 27, with France and Belgium pushing for the UK to be allowed to remain in the EU until May 7 – regardless of whether parliament supports the prime minister’s deal.
The unconditional offer would take the pressure off the PM to stage a third meaningful vote next week and would also remove the need for an emergency summit in Brussels if her deal was once again rejected.
However, under the plan the longer extension would only be available if the UK declares by April 11 that it will take part in the Euro-elections.
Earlier in the day, French president Emmanuel Macron warned there would need to be “profound change” - code for a general election, second referendum, or a softening of May’s preferred Brexit - for the EU to agree to a longer extension.
He tweeted: ”On Brexit, we must be clear to ourselves, to our British friends and to our people.
“The withdrawal agreement cannot be renegotiated. In the case of a negative vote in Britain, we will be going towards no-deal.”
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel added: “The British parliament must say with clarity what it wants. We know what it doesn’t want.
“A delay is possible only if it is very limited in time. The withdrawal agreement must be approved by the British parliament.”
Arriving in Brussels, May again repeated her insistence that the Commons must now back her deal despite widespread criticism from MPs, who believe she has wrongly pitted parliament against the people.
The PM said: “What is important is that Parliament delivers on the result of the referendum and that we deliver Brexit for the British people. I sincerely hope that we can do that with a deal.”
She added: “What matters is that we recognise that Brexit is the decision of the British people - we need to deliver on that.
“We’re nearly three years on from the original vote - it is now the time for Parliament to decide.”
Earlier, Jeremy Corbyn held what he called “very constructive discussions” in Brussels with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and powerful senior diplomat Martin Selmayr, which he said focused on the means to prevent a no-deal Brexit on Friday.
The Labour leader twice declined to rule out the option of halting Brexit by revoking the Article 50 letter informing Brussels of Britain’s intention to quit.
Corbyn said: “These are hypotheticals. So far as we’re concerned, we think there’s an urgency in constructing a majority for an agreeable solution and that’s what we’re concentrating on at the moment.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she will work “until the last hour” to try and ensure that Britain does not leave the EU without a deal.
Speaking to German MPs ahead of the summit, Merkel stressed “the most important emergency measures” are in place in her country to handle no-deal, but she still hopes to avoid a crisis.
She added: “We will, despite these measures we have taken, work until the last day - I will say until the last hour - to ensure that this emergency planning doesn’t come into effect.
“We will do everything in the remaining, admittedly few, days to achieve an orderly, joint solution.”