Brussels opposes Theresa May request for Brexit extension until 30 June but will accept long delay

Extension would have to stop well before upcoming EU elections, or continue long after, document suggests

Theresa May asks for Brexit delay until June in letter to EU

Brussels opposes Theresa May’s plan to delay Brexit until 30 June, according to a leaked internal EU diplomatic note.

The review of the Brexit situation drawn up by EU officials says national leaders will face a “binary” choice of a short Article 50 extension to before May 23, or a long delay to at least the end of this year.

“Any extension offered to the United Kingdom should either last until 23 May 2019 or should be significantly longer and require European elections,” the leaked document says.

“This is the only way of protecting the functioning of the EU institutions and their ability to take decisions.”

The document, drawn up for European Commissioners, says that "any other option (as for example an extension until 30 June 2019) would entail serious legal and political risks for the European Union and would import some of the current uncertainties in the United Kingdom into the EU27".

It adds that "any other scenario would also have direct legal and practical consequences for the election of Members to the European Parliament in 14 of our Member States".

On Wednesday afternoon Theresa May wrote a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk formally requesting an extension past next Friday, the day Britain is currently set to leave the EU. She said she was “not prepared to delay Brexit any further than the 30 June”.

The decision of whether to extend and by how long is not up to Brussels – but the 27 other EU member states, who must unanimously approve any delay. Though there are differing views in EU capitals about a delay, throughout Brexit talks member states have however so far stuck close to the European Commission’s line.

If the Commission’s advice is followed by leaders on Thursday, Theresa May will have to choose between a very short extension, or a longer one. The latter is likely to be unpalatable to her party and Cabinet, while the former may not be long enough to achieve anything in – depending on what her plan is.

The reason for the concerns laid out in the document, which was reviewed by the Commission at its weekly meeting on Wednesday, is because of the logistical effect such a middling-length extension could have on the EU.

EU member states are due to get extra MEPs in the coming European Parliament elections because of Britain’s departure – with the UK’s old seats split up between the other countries. As a result, the EU says it would need to know by late April so that seats could be allocated properly ahead of the elections.

The diplomatic note also says that any long extension should see Britain, “in a spirit of loyal cooperation”, commit to “constructive abstention” on key issues, such as the budget and selection of Commissioners.

On Tuesday night EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned: “I am here to ask a very legitimate question on behalf of the European authorities – which is why do you want an extension? What for? What’s the objective of an extension? What use would it be? An extension has to be useful.”

Mr Barnier warned that “extending uncertainty without a clear plan” would have political and economic costs for the EU, and that a longer extension needed to be linked to something – such as a new political process in the UK to find a solution to the deadlock.

EU leaders also issued similar warnings, with Michael Roth, Germany’s Europe minister, telling reporters in Brussels that EU member states were “really exhausted” by the UK’s approach to talks, and that the situation was “not just a game”.

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