EU ministers warned Tuesday that Britain must come to this week’s emergency summit with a credible plan to justify postponing Brexit, as last-ditch talks got underway across European capitals. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May was to meet her German counterpart Angela Merkel in Berlin and France’s President Emmanuel Macron in Paris later in the day, before Wednesday’s EU summit in Brussels. She will ask for Britain’s exit from the union to be postponed beyond midnight on Friday, to avoid a chaotic and disorderly divorce, and the other 27 EU leaders are expected to agree — under conditions.
“We are in a very, very frustrating situation here,” said Germany’s minister for European affairs Michael Roth, as he and fellow EU officials arrived for Luxembourg talks on the eve of the summit. Roth said that EU leaders would consider May’s planned request for Brexit to be pushed back to June 30, but also perhaps for a “longer one, but this must also be subject to very strict criteria.” Roth’s French counterpart Amelie de Montchalin said EU capitals were digesting news from London late Monday that parliament had passed a law insisting that May seek an extension to avoid a “no deal” Brexit on Friday.
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“We want to understand what the UK needs this extension for, and what are the political surroundings around Theresa May to have this extension,” she told reporters. “And then comes the question of the conditions of what role we’d want the UK to play during this extension time,” she said. France and other capitals are worried that if Britain accepts a long delay, and even elects a new batch of MEPs, its representative could disrupt EU budget planning and reforms during indefinite Brexit talks.
Ireland, which has much to lose if its larger neighbour quits the block without a deal, has been most supportive of an extension, but Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, also insisted on the need for conditions. “No deal in my view would be an an extraordinary failure of politics and we need to ensure that that doesn’t happen,” he said. “But of course there needs to be a real plan to go with a request for an extension — that’s credible — in order for that extension to be agreed over the next three days, and I think that’s likely to happen.” The EU had previously agreed a short extension to the original deadline of March 29.