British Prime Minister, Theresa May will meet the leaders of Germany and France on Tuesday in a last minute bid to keep her country from crashing out of the European Union(EU) later this week.
The meeting with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel in Berlin and President Emmanuel Macron in Paris come on the eve of another tension-packed summit in Brussels focused on the fate of the 46-year-old partnership.
May asked EU leaders on Friday to delay Brexit until June 30 to give her time to strike a deal with the opposition that will allow Britain’s hung parliament back an orderly divorce plan at the fourth attempt.
27 European leaders have already signed off on one extension, the original deadline was March 29. There are serious doubts that May would be able to break through the political gridlock now.
“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 talks in Luxembourg on the eve of the summit.
Roth’s French counterpart Amelie de Montchalin said, “we want to understand what the UK needs this extension for and what are the political surroundings around Theresa May to have this extension”.
“And then comes the question of the conditions of what role we would want the UK to play during this extension time,” she added.
Some EU members are worried that if Britain accepts a long delay, its representatives could disrupt EU budget planning and reforms during indefinite Brexit talks, potentially causing more problems than a “no-deal Brexit”.
EU Council president, Donald Tusk’s office last week floated an agreement proposal that gives Britain a “flexible” extension of up to a year, which will end earlier should some way forward emerge in London, but an unnamed diplomat insisted that this was “Mr Tusk’s position, not the position of the Council.”
Merkel takes a more calm approach backed by Ireland, a crucial player whose politically sensitive border with Britain’s Northern Ireland is holding up May’s deal in parliament.
“I will do everything in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit, where there is a will, there is a way,” Merkel said on Friday.
The diplomatic disarray in Brussels is mirrored by political paralysis in London that has forced May to promise to resign as soon as she gets the first stage of Brexit over the line.
The weakened British Prime Minister had hoped to come to Brussels with either her deal approved or some sort of alternative way forward drafted that could convince the likes of Macron but her talks with the opposition Labour Party have made no tangible progress and seem unlikely to find common ground before she flies to Brussels seeking a second delay in three weeks.
“The problem is that the government doesn’t seem to be moving off the original red lines,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Monday.
The government will instead present a plan to parliament Tuesday to outline how long it intends to delay Brexit.
This is part of the legislation passed into law on Monday to force May to postpone Brexit if the only other alternative is a no-deal scenario.
May’s talks with Labour have stumbled over Corbyn’s demand that Britain join some form of European customs arrangement once the sides formally split up.
EU officials are ready to include such a promise in the outline of a future relationship, which was agreed with May alongside the withdrawal deal.
But May knows that the prospect of close post-Brexit economic relations could further fracture her government and party ahead of possible snap elections.
Almost any form of European customs arrangement would keep Britain from striking its own global trade agreement and leave one of the biggest advantages of Brexit unfulfilled.
Additional reports from AFP