FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2017 file photo, British Prime Minister Theresa May, right, speaks with European Council President Donald Tusk, second left, as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker looks on during a meeting in Brussels. EU leaders will confront British Prime Minister Theresa May for the second time in three weeks on her government’s plans at an emergency Brexit summit on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, and such gatherings aren’t getting any friendlier. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)

Britain's May makes pre-summit plea for new Brexit delay

April 09, 2019 - 12:38 pm

BRUSSELS (AP) — With nearly everyone fully resigned to Britain's departure from the European Union, two questions took center stage Tuesday: How — and when — to get the U.K. politely out the door.

EU leaders will confront British Prime Minister Theresa May for the second time in three weeks on her government's delayed plans at an emergency Brexit summit on Wednesday, and such gatherings aren't getting any friendlier.

The bloc's leaders have tried to help May over the past two years of negotiations, and even after she missed her hand-picked Brexit date of departure on March 29 because of a parliamentary revolt.

So EU countries, especially France, have become increasingly exasperated with the political division and uncertainty in Britain about a way forward.

On a charm offensive with key leaders, May first flew to Berlin Tuesday to plead for good terms with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then set off for Paris for an encounter with President Emmanuel Macron, seen as her counterpart with the toughest demands.

"France is really trying to play bad cop here," said Larissa Brunner, an analyst at European Policy Center, referring to French insistence that another extension to her deadline must come with strings attached and assurances from London.

May has already obtained a delay until Friday, and she will be asking for another postponement that lasts until June 30 at the special EU summit, all because of the political chaos Brexit has wrought in London.

France, which has had a love-hate relationship with Britain for about 1,000 years, is now at the forefront to get the EU to take some decisive action.

"We won't be able to perpetually live with the exit of Brexit," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said over the weekend. "At some point there is an exit."

Germany thinks likewise. "There isn't an endless readiness to keep talking about delays so long as there is no substantial progress on the British side," said Michael Roth, Germany's deputy foreign minister.

All eyes are now turned toward Macron, who has it in his power to force Britain to choose between a no-deal Brexit on Friday and cancelling its departure altogether. A drastic cliff-edge departure would have huge costs to businesses and trade across the English Channel and be very cumbersome to travelers as it would hit airports, ports, tariff rules and standard regulations overnight.

EU rules say that any extension to the Brexit deadline needs unanimity among the 27 other member states, and even if smaller member states would be hard-pressed to do it on their own, France has never shied away from being an EU leader — even at the expense of Britain.

After all, French President Charles De Gaulle twice vetoed British membership in the 1960s, and the two countries long fought tooth and nail over everything from farming to fishing rights to how much Britain should pay into the EU budget.

Add to that France's long-held championing of state oversight of the economy as opposed to Britain's staunch defense of free-market liberalism, and the potential for political infighting has always been there.

Britain's Byzantine parliamentary disarray that has left Brexit in a state of a flux has added to continental annoyance.

"The EU cannot continually exhaust itself on the comings and goings of Britain's internal politics," Le Drian said.

"We are in a very, very frustrating situation here," Roth said as he arrived Tuesday at an EU meeting in Luxembourg. But, he added, a disorderly Brexit would be "the worst of all options on the table."

"We expect finally to have substantial steps in the right direction — so far absolutely nothing has changed," Roth said. "Within the European Union, there isn't an endless readiness to keep talking about delays so long as there is no substantial progress on the British side."

Every British initiative to get a deal has floundered so far. Now, May's Conservative government and the main opposition Labour Party have been trying to find a compromise Brexit deal before EU leaders decide Wednesday whether to grant a second extension to the U.K.'s departure.

But several days of talks have failed to produce a breakthrough. Labour favors a softer Brexit than the government has proposed, and wants to retain a close economic relationship with the bloc.

After further talks Tuesday over an informal lunch of sandwiches and sausage rolls, the two sides said they would resume their discussions after Wednesday's summit.

May's Downing Street office said the talks had been "productive and wide-ranging." Labour business spokeswoman Rebecca Long-Bailey said there had not been "any fundamental shift ... but we're hopeful that progress will be made."

For two years, March 29 was the date etched in law to get Brexit through. It has come and gone, and the new red line has become the May 23-26 European elections and the July 2 start of the new five-year EU legislative session.

European Council President Donald Tusk has offered up the possibility of a long-term delay, a one-year "flextension."

But some EU leaders worry that could have drawbacks — especially after British Brexit-backers suggested they would try to make life difficult for the EU.

Conservative lawmaker Mark Francois said that if the U.K. remained in the bloc, "then in return we will become a Trojan horse within the EU, which will utterly derail all your attempts to pursue a more federal project."

Little wonder EU leaders are looking for a true commitment of cooperation from May as a prerequisite for a long extension to the Brexit deadline.

"A positive decision hinges also on assurances from the U.K. on sincere cooperation," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said after a phone call with May on Monday.


Associated Press writers Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.


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