Pro-Brexit activists hold placards as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday. Agence France-Presse
LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May asked sceptical EU leaders on Wednesday to delay Brexit until June 30 as Britain’s political crisis deepened just nine days before the scheduled departure date.
May told a stormy session of parliament that she had written to EU President Donald Tusk “informing him that the UK seeks an extension to June 30.”
She was confronted with a barrage of criticism from Brexit hardliners who wanted her to stick to the March 29 departure date and pro-EU lawmakers who want a long delay that could allow for an overhaul of the strategy.
In the House of Commons, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn blamed the prime minister’s “incompetence, failure and intransigence,” saying she refused to accept her deal had failed.
Faced with the potentially catastrophic impact of Britain leaving its biggest trading partner after 46 years with no agreement in place on March 29, May said she would try one last time to pass her deal through parliament.
If she fails a third time, May said parliament would have to decide what happened next -- but hinted that her own future was on the line.
“As prime minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than June 30,” she said.
Delaying any longer would require Britain to hold European Parliament elections at the end of May, which she said would be “unacceptable.”
May will travel to Brussels on Thursday for an EU summit where she will put her request in person to the other 27 EU leaders, who must unanimously approve any delay.
But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said it was unlikely they would reach a decision without a clear signal from London on what MPs want, suggesting another meeting might be needed next week.
The commission, the EU’s executive arm, said the June 30 date carried “serious legal and political risks.”
Spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Juncker in a phone-call on Wednesday “warned” May against proposing an extension date that was after European elections. “As long as we don’t know what Britain could say yes to, no decision can be taken on our side either,” Juncker told German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.
He said the deal agreed was the final offer, warning: “Nothing more can be done, we’ve reached the end of the road.