European leaders will gather in Brussels later on Wednesday to decide on the United Kingdom’s immediate future in the European Union.
The president of the European Council, representing the member states, is recommending that they accord a much longer delay to Brexit than the British prime minister is officially seeking. Theresa May, with parliamentary backing, has asked for an extension until June 30.
Under the revised timetable agreed at a summit last month, the UK is due by law to leave the EU this Friday, April 12.
Donald Tusk has written to EU leaders to suggest that the UK’s exit be delayed by up to a year, saying that “one possibility would be a flexible extension” allowing it to be cut short if the negotiated withdrawal deal is ratified.
He explained why he thought May’s request for a shorter extension should be rejected. “Our experience so far, as well as the deep divisions within the House of Commons, give us little reason to believe that the ratification process can be completed by the end of June,” Tusk wrote.
A draft EU document circulated ahead of the summit also proposes a flexible extension, but leaves the exit date blank.
Ahead of the summit, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel will host a meeting of Britain’s closest neighbours who would be hit hardest by the disruption of a no-deal Brexit.
Theresa May, whose successive attempts to ram the Brexit deal through parliament have failed, spent Tuesday on a shuttle mission to Berlin and Paris to seek support from Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.
The German chancellor said after her meeting with May that a delay until the end of 2019 or early 2020 was possible. France has spoken out against a long extension but has been softening its position.