Theresa May seeks Brexit delay from Merkel and Macron
As Theresa May brings her one-day tour of European capitals to an end, we're finishing our live coverage for Tuesday.
Aside from clocking up more air miles, the prime minister will be hoping she's laid some groundwork with the two biggest players in the room at Wednesday's all-important EU summit.
We'll be back to cover the twists and turns on Wednesday, when European leaders discuss another delay to Brexit.
Theresa May has wrapped up her meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street has confirmed.
“Following the Prime Minister’s letter to Donald Tusk last week, the leaders discussed the UK’s request for an extension of Article 50 to June 30th, with the option to bring this forward if a deal is ratified earlier," a spokesman for May said.
He added that May "updated President Macron on the ongoing talks with the Opposition to agree a way forward that respects the result of the 2016 referendum.
“They also discussed upcoming European Parliamentary elections with the PM saying that the government was working very hard to avoid the need for the UK to take part.”
While May will be keen to push for an extension until her proposed date of June 30, all signs from Brussels are pointing to a much longer delay, which Britain could bring to an early end if it passes the Withdrawal Agreement.
CNN has seen a leaked copy of the EU’s draft conclusions from Wednesday’s summit, which are in line with Donald Tusk’s letter urging the EU to consider a long and flexible extension.
The draft, which will be the basis of discussions at tomorrow's meeting, leaves the length of the proposed extension to be decided at the meeting. A spokesman for French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that an extension of up to a year would be “too long.”
The document also includes wording intended to ensure Britain would not interfere with the EU's objectives while it was still a member -- a concern prompted by some hardline Brexiteers in Theresa May's Conservative Party.
EU leaders should consider a long but flexible delay to Brexit, Donald Tusk, the President of the EU Council, has said in his invitation letter to the attendees at Wednesday's summit.
"I trust that we will continue to do our utmost" to avoid a no-deal Brexit, Tusk writes. But he reflected Europe's pessimism about the prospect of Theresa May passing her Withdrawal Agreement through the House of Commons -- and said a long delay was therefore the best course.
"Our experience so far, as well as the deep divisions within the House of Commons, give us little reason to believe that the ratification process can be completed by the end of June," Tusk writes. "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."
"This is why I believe we should also discuss an alternative, longer extension," he adds. May has formally requested a delay until June 30, but Tusk appears to be resistant to this timing. He adds that a "flexible extension," which could be terminated when May passes a deal, is an option -- but reiterates that the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for re-negotiation.
Tusk also appeared to push back against the apparent wishes of France and other states to strip back Britain's powers while they remained in the EU.
"The UK would have to maintain its sincere cooperation also during this crucial period, in a manner that reflects its situation as a departing member state," he writes. "We should remember, however, that the United Kingdom will remain a member state with full rights and obligations. And, in any event, the UK can revoke Article 50 at any time, as stated by the European Court of Justice."
He concludes with an amicable call to the 27 remaining EU leaders. "Whatever course of action is taken, it must not be influenced by negative emotions," Tusk writes. "We should treat the UK with the highest respect, as we want to remain friends and close partners, and as we will still need to agree on our future relations. Neither side should be allowed to feel humiliated at any stage in this difficult process."
Theresa May has arrived in Paris and been greeted by Emmanuel Macron, the second European leader she's stopped in on during her whistle-stop tour of Europe.
Macron is expected to prove a more difficult adversary than Angela Merkel, whom May met in Berlin earlier. The French President has so far proven unsympathetic to Britain's requests for Brexit extensions, and he'll be expected to play a similar role in Wednesday's summit.
The President's spokesman signaled that France would back a delay -- but not without conditions.
"One year would be too long," the spokesman said. He also made clear that France would want Britain's powers in the EU to be severely limited during an extension period, to ensure pro-Brexit lawmakers in Brussels cannot wreck havoc with the bloc's plans.
Lawmakers have voted to approve Theresa May's request of a Brexit extension until June 30, by a sizable majority.
The vote passed by 420 votes to 110 in the House of Commons. But the number of "no" voters -- most of whom were Conservatives -- is notable, and reflects the sizable opposition from hardliners within May's own party to her plan to delay Brexit again.
While the anticipated approval is a boost for May, the actual end-date of the extension will be decided by European leaders at Wednesday's summit.
A Conservative backbencher has made an extraordinary appeal to Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, urging the European leaders to undermine Theresa May's government by rejecting her request for another Brexit extension.
"Please, put us out of our misery now, as this House and this Government appear incapable of doing," Tim Loughton said during a debate in the House of Commons. "At tomorrow's EU Council, please vote against any further extensions to Article 50 and oblige the UK to leave the EU on Friday on WTO terms."
"You previously said you would only honor any application for an extension if there was a credible reason so to do. That credible reason does not not exist," he added.
His plea won't go down well with his party's leader. If fulfilled, it would send the UK crashing out of the EU on Friday -- and could spell the end of Theresa May's time in power.
Loughton also echoed threats made by Brexiteers including Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said the UK should be "as difficult as possible" if it stayed in the EU for an extended period of time.
"If the EU elections go ahead, it is highly likely the UK will elect an army of Nigel Farage mini-me's, who I am afraid will wreak havoc with the European Parliament and wreck your calculations about the balance of power within the EU," he said.
Several leaders, including Macron, are clearly keen to guard against such a prospect. An Élysée spokesperson earlier indicated that Britain may see some of its powers stripped if it were granted a length delay.
Another round of "constructive" cross-party Brexit negotiations has come to a close with still no sign of a breakthrough.
Labour and Downing Street said talks will continue after the European Council summit on Wednesday -- making it all but certain that Theresa May will arrive at the emergency meeting without any concrete cross-party plan.
"We've had really constructive discussions today and covered a number of issues in great detail," Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said after leaving the talks at the Cabinet Office.
"There's not really been any fundamental shift or a change in position of the deal itself. But we're hopeful that progress will be made," she added.
"Constructive" has becoming something of a buzzword when it comes to describing the Brexit discussions -- and it's usually followed by an admission that the two sides remain some way apart.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove was singing from the same hymn sheet after leaving Tuesday's conversations, calling the conversations -- wait for it -- "constructive," before adding: "There are number of issues where we differ, but we are anxious to ensure that we can carry on with this process."
A Downing Street spokesperson added: "We remain completely committed to delivering on Brexit, with both sides working hard to agreeing a way forward, appreciating the urgency in order to avoid European elections."
The lack of an agreement isn't helpful for May, who would have preferred to present other EU leaders with a done deal. But the fact that everyone is sounding positive makes it harder for the EU to deny the request for a Brexit delay. The question, it seems, will be for how long, and with what conditions.
France considers a one-year extension to Brexit to be "too long," a spokesman for Emmanuel Macron has said, ahead of the French President's meeting with Theresa May on Tuesday.
A delay until March 31, 2019 was floated during last month's EU Council summit, but was ultimately not pursued -- and France appears set to block such a plan were it to be raised again.
The spokesman reiterated that the Withdrawal Agreement between May and the EU cannot be revisited, and also said Britain would need to accept "strict conditions" if it is to receive a lengthy Brexit delay.
He raised concerns over whether the UK would interfere in the running of the EU during an extension period. "The EU must keep functioning and any Brexit delay must preserve the functioning of the EU," he said.
"It’s logical that when you’re a member looking to leave you can’t build with the others," the spokesman went on, adding that it would "make sense" for Britain to be excluded from the process of setting the EU budget or choosing the next President of the European Commission.
Those conditions would placate fears stoked by hardline Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who tweeted last week that Britain "should be as difficult as possible" within the bloc if granted a long delay.
"In the event of a long extension the (remaining) 27 could demand reviews to look at whether the UK is honoring its commitments not to block the EU’s decision-making," the Élysée spokesman said.
"We don’t want to bet on the functioning of the EU. We can’t say to ourselves 'everything will be fine' (if) that’s not the case. It’s not about being nice or not nice. There’s a difference between a leaving member state and a member state. We can’t risk the European Union," he added.
Those tough words indicate that Macron will again prove a holdout in Europe's discussions over a second Brexit extension. The French leader seemed more willing than most to allow Britain to crash out with no deal in March.
But Macron's spokesman was keen to push back on the idea that he is being unfair to Theresa May.
"France being portrayed as a bad cop is not correct. We are looking for solutions but we need to stay firm," the spokesman said.