European Council president Donald Tusk (left), Luxembourg Prime minister Xavier Bettel (centre left), British Prime minister Theresa May (centre right) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of a European Council meeting on Brexit in Brussels, April 10 2019. Picture: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP
European Council president Donald Tusk (left), Luxembourg Prime minister Xavier Bettel (centre left), British Prime minister Theresa May (centre right) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of a European Council meeting on Brexit in Brussels, April 10 2019. Picture: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP

Brussels— Europe mounted an emergency summit on Wednesday to decide how long a Brexit delay to grant British Prime Minister Theresa May — and under what conditions.

Without a postponement, Britain is due to crash out of the EU at midnight on Friday under a “no-deal” Brexit that could trigger economic chaos.

May wants to postpone Brexit from April 12 to June 30 to arrange an orderly departure — but the European leaders gathered in Brussels for a summit are expected to offer her a longer delay, of up to a year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the parliament in Berlin before setting out for Brussels that the leaders might back a delay “longer than the British prime minister has requested”.

“I am of the opinion, the German government is of the opinion, that we should give both parties a reasonable amount of time,” Merkel said.

European Council president Donald Tusk, hosting the summit, said the evidence of recent months gave EU leaders “little reason to believe” that British MPs will ratify the Brexit withdrawal treaty before May’s preferred June 30 date.

"In reality, granting such an extension would increase the risk of a rolling series of short extensions and emergency summits, creating new cliff-edge dates," he said, reflecting concern in EU capitals.

Flexible extension?

"One possibility would be a flexible extension, which would last only as long as necessary and no longer than one year," he said.

According to a draft copy of the summit conclusions that EU leaders were to negotiate later in the day, they were to agree to an extension to allow May time to ratify the withdrawal agreement.

“Such an extension should last only as long as necessary and, in any event, no longer than [XX.XX.XXXX]," the draft reads. The other 27 EU leaders will thrash out what date to fill in the blanks on Wednesday.

“If the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified by both parties before this date, the withdrawal will take place on the first day of the following month,” the draft says.

If Britain is still in the EU when the bloc’s parliamentary elections begin on May 23, it must take part in the vote.

“If the UK fails to live up to this obligation, the withdrawal will take place on 1 June 2019,” the draft warns.

If an extension is agreed, Brussels will portray it as a concession to Britain, with some members — particularly France — not keen to see the disruptive Brexit drama drag on much longer.

May insists she still wants to quickly ratify the withdrawal she agreed with EU leaders last November, but which has been rejected by British lawmakers, and to leave before the EU polls.

In Paris, an aide to President Emmanuel Macron said France was open to solutions.

“We’ve never been closed to the idea of finding an alternative solution to ’no deal’ within certain limits and not at any price,” the Elysee source said.

But while Merkel said she agreed that the delay should be “as short as possible” she added it “should be long enough to create a certain calm so we don’t have to meet every two weeks to deal with the same subject”.

And Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said: “The Netherlands is open to a longer delay.”

The French source said a 12-month extension “seems too long” and other Brussels diplomats told reporters that — after May makes her presentation — the other 27 leaders would debate to find a consensus position.

EU members want to ensure that a semi-detached Britain does not seek leverage in Brexit talks by intervening in choosing the next head of the European Commission or the next multi-year EU budget.

Britain was originally due to leave the EU on March 29. But Brussels agreed an extension after the British parliament rejected the withdrawal agreement negotiated with May.

AFP