Politics

PM to meet Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel before emergency Brexit summit

Theresa May will hold talks with France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel a day before an emergency Brexit summit.

The prime minister will travel to Berlin and then Paris on Tuesday, in a last-gasp round of Brexit diplomacy before a gathering of EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday.

European Council president Donald Tusk arranged the emergency summit due to Mrs May’s continuing failure to have her withdrawal agreement approved by the House of Commons.

The prime minister has requested a further extension to the Article 50 negotiating period in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit on Friday.

Mrs May has asked for a second delay to Brexit to last up until 30 June, but it is for the leaders of the remaining 27 EU member states to unanimously agree whether or not to accept the prime minister’s plea.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar has suggested it is unlikely any single EU country will veto completely the UK’s request.

But, even if they do agree to extend Article 50 again, EU leaders might ignore Mrs May’s proposed timetable and instead agree to grant the UK a “flextension” of up to a year.

This would likely include the possibility for the UK to leave the bloc at the point, if or when, a Brexit deal is finally passed by the House of Commons.

Such a plan would appeal to EU leaders hoping to avoid having to return to Brussels for an emergency Brexit summit every few weeks in order to prevent a no deal scenario, through a series of short extensions to Article 50.

Ahead of Mrs May’s meetings with Mr Macron and Ms Merkel, Downing Street said it was important for the prime minister to set out the rationale behind her request to extend Article 50 again, in order for Wednesday’s summit to run smoothly.

She is also expected to speak to other EU leaders by telephone on Monday afternoon.

Having failed to convince the DUP and enough Tory Brexiteers to support her Brexit deal on three occasions, Mrs May last week altered her Brexit strategy to instead focus on winning Labour’s support for her withdrawal agreement.

Those talks broke down on Friday as Labour accused the government of refusing to make any changes to the wording of the political declaration on the proposed future UK-EU relationship, which accompanies the withdrawal agreement.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly demanded Mrs May ditch one of her Brexit red lines in order to seek a post-Brexit customs union with the EU.

Despite there being no further talks between the government and Labour over the weekend, Mrs May held open the possibility of striking a cross-party deal in a video message from her Chequers country retreat.

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer also revealed the two sides had maintained contact, with the government intending to restart discussions on Monday.

“We’re waiting to see what the government is putting on the table as a proposal,” Sir Keir said.

“All they’ve done so far is to indicate various things but not change the political declaration.

“So the ball’s in the government’s court, we need to see what they come back with and when we do we will take a collective decision on that.”

Mrs May’s planned travel to Berlin and Paris could yet be interrupted if a bill from Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory ex-minister Sir Oliver Letwin is passed into law on Monday night.

This would force the prime minister to consult the House of Commons, likely to happen on Tuesday, on the length of the further delay to Brexit she is requesting from the EU.

A subsequent motion tabled by Mrs May could then be amended by MPs to either shorten or lengthen – or add further conditions – to any Brexit delay.

Revealing the scale of anger among Conservative eurosceptics at the prime minister’s handling of Brexit, former Brexit minister Steve Baker claimed this week “might be the week when the government and parliament are seen to have betrayed” the 2016 EU referendum result.

“It’s a very sad week for British democracy if we don’t leave at the end,” he told Sky News.

Describing how he “struggled to watch” the whole of Mrs May’s video message, the Tory MP added: “We’re in this mess because of choices the prime minister has made.”

He continued: “We asked the British public ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’. The public were told all sorts of horror stories and still voted to leave.

“And here we are fibrillating in a sort of state of cowardice afraid to get on with it.”

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