APTOPIX Belgium EU Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks as she arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders meet Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

By JILL LAWLESS

and RAF CASERT Associated Press

BRUSSELS — European Union leaders and Britain agreed today to a Brexit extension that will allow the U.K. to delay its EU departure date until Halloween.

Leaders of the 27 remaining EU member states met for more than six hours before agreeing after midnight to postpone Brexit until Oct. 31.

European Council President Donald Tusk presented the offer to British Prime Minister Theresa May, who had asked for a delay only until June 30.

Tusk said in a tweet that the British leader had agreed to the longer “flexible” extension, which means Britain can leave before October if it ratifies a withdrawal deal with the EU.

“This means additional six months for the U.K. to find the best possible solution,” Tusk wrote.

Just two days before Britain was due to leave the EU, its leaders spent a long dinner meeting wrangling over whether to save Britain from a precipitous and potentially calamitous Brexit, or to give the foot-dragging departing nation a shove over the edge.

May pleaded with them at an emergency summit to delay Britain’s exit, due on Friday, for a couple more months while the U.K. sorts out the mess that Brexit has become.

Some were sympathetic, but French President Emmanuel Macron struck a warning note shortly before the European leaders met.

“Nothing is decided,” Macron said as he arrived at the summit, insisting on “clarity” from May about what Britain wants.

“What’s indispensable is that nothing should compromise the European project in the months to come,” he said.

May said a June 30 deadline was enough time for Britain’s Parliament to ratify a Brexit deal and pass the legislation needed for a smooth Brexit.

But British lawmakers have rejected her divorce deal three times, and attempts to forge a compromise with her political opponents have yet to bear fruit.

May spoke to the 27 EU leaders for just over an hour, before they met for dinner without her to decide Britain’s fate. In contrast to some testy recent summits, there were signs of warmth and even humor. May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were filmed laughing over a tablet bearing an image showing the two of them speaking to their respective Parliaments on Wednesday wearing similar blue jackets.

Many leaders said they were inclined to grant a Brexit delay, though Macron had reservations after hearing May speak. An official in the French president’s office said the British leader hadn’t offered “sufficient guarantees” to justify a long extension.

Others suggested a longer delay would likely be needed, given the depth of Britain’s political disarray.

May signaled she would accept a longer extension, as long as it contained a get-out-early cause should Britain end its Brexit impasse.

“What is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point at which we ratify the withdrawal agreement,” May said as she arrived in Brussels.

She added that she was hopeful it could be as soon as May 22 — a key date since that would avoid the need for Britain to participate in elections for the European Parliament.

Every British initiative to get a deal has floundered so far.

Several days of talks between May’s Conservative government and the main opposition Labour Party aimed at finding a compromise have failed to produce a breakthrough. Labour favors a softer Brexit than the government has proposed, and wants to retain a close economic relationship with the bloc. The two sides said they would resume their discussions Thursday.

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