EU Council President Donald Tusk said Friday that all Brexit options are on the table until the new April 12 deadline, including Britain cancelling its withdrawal.
Prime Minister Theresa May returned to Britain to try for a third time to persuade recalcitrant lawmakers to approve her EU withdrawal agreement after European leaders agreed to postpone the March 29 departure date.
If MPs back the accord, Britain will leave the EU on May 22, but if they vote it down again, London must say before April 12 what it plans to do, with a further delay only possible if it gets organised for upcoming European Parliament elections.
Tusk said all options were still available — including Britain cancelling its withdrawal, an idea backed by a petition in the UK that has now gathered almost three million signatures.
“Until April 12, anything is possible — a deal, a long extension, if the UK decided to rethink its strategy or revoking Article 50, which is a prerogative of the UK government,” Tusk said.
“The fate of Brexit is in the hands of our British friends. We are prepared for the worst, but hope for the best. As you know, hope dies last.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that if May’s deal is voted down again, the bloc’s leaders would need another summit with May to discuss how to proceed.
“I think that this (April 12) is a very reasonable date. Of course we will meet again before that date — certainly in the presence of the British prime minister,” Merkel told reporters after the summit in Brussels.
But French President Emmanuel Macron warned that if May lost the vote, “it will be for the prime minister and parliament to propose other options”, and he once again took aim at Brexit hardliners.
“Brexit in my eyes is not now fundamentally a technical negotiation, it is above all a political lesson — rejecting Europe without a plan leads to impasse,” he said.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he rated May’s chances of getting the deal approved by parliament as “50-50”, a view echoed by his Luxembourg counterpart Xavier Bettel.
“I very much hope and suggest and would encourage the British parliament to agree because given the (British) red lines this is the only deal on the table,” Rutte told reporters.
The EU has consistently said that if May were to modify her Brexit conditions — ending free movement of workers and leaving the EU’s single market and customs union — the bloc could offer her a different deal.
May has been adamant she will not budge, but Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel said he still held out hope of a “miracle”.
“I don’t say I don’t believe in miracles, but I know that miracles are rare,” he said.