EU leaders aim for end of year Brexit despite French fears of ‘UK sabotage’

Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel share a joke at a round table meeting in Brussels, Belgium. Credit: Leon Neal/PA Wire

Brussels

EU leaders were pushing to offer Britain a nine month or one year flexible Brexit extension last night, despite French fears allowing the UK to stay past June will “jeopardise” the EU’s entire future.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other EU leaders were expected to offer British prime minister Theresa May the lengthy “flex-tension” after hours of talks late last night in a deal that will allow Britain to leave the EU as soon as Westminster passes a deal.

However, despite most leaders backing the plan, French president Emmanuel Macron warned Britain is failing to give “serious guarantees” it will not use the time to sabotage the EU.

And in a dire warning, he claimed a lengthy extension could derail the bloc itself.

While EU leaders were still locked in talks towards midnight, several sources said Mr Varadkar and the vast majority of his counterparts are willing to dramatically extend Brexit until at least the end of the year.

The offer, which was first suggested by European Council president Donald Tusk on Tuesday night as a way to avoid a no deal Brexit at 11pm tomorrow, will:

  • Allow Britain to remain in the EU until either December or March;
  • Give Britain the right to quit as soon as Westminster ratifies a Brexit deal agreed by the EU during this period;
  • Include “review” points and be based on a “sincere co-operation” commitment the UK will not use the extension to try to undermine the EU’s work, with a leaked file saying this relates “in particular when participating in the decision-making processes”;
  • And demand Britain runs candidates in next month’s MEP elections.

The deal will also ensure Britain cannot veto internal EU plans during the extension and will be placed at arm’s distance from any EU budget talks.

However, the Irish Examiner understands Mr Macron warned Britain is not giving “serious guarantees” it will not use the extra time to sabotage the EU’s work.

In a lengthy exchange with counterparts last night, Mr Macron is understood to have said a no deal crash out Brexit is not the worst option.

While sources said he was expected to still reluctantly back the “flex-tension” offer, it is understood Mr Macron also said he believes it is more risky allowing Britain to “stay inside the tent” of the EU.

The behind-closed-doors talks came after Ms May gave a one hour and six minutes presentation to EU leaders on her Brexit plans.

She is understood to have largely stuck to her public letter requesting an extension until June 30 and saying she does not want to run MEP election candidates.

However, sources said during a question and answers session with EU leaders, the British prime minister said she would reluctantly run candidates if she does not agree a deal with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by May 22 in order to prevent a June 1 crash out date.

A senior source said last night “unless something goes horribly wrong”

Britain would be offered a lengthy extension, with Ireland “favouring” December. However, they admitted an exact date, deal “road map” and conditions were still being discussed.

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