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EU’s Tusk backs ‘long’ delay if Britain ‘rethinks’ Brexit

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President of European Council Donald Tusk gives a joint press with EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker after an informal meeting of the 27 EU heads of state or government at the European Council headquarters in Brussels  / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS

EU leader Donald Tusk said Thursday that European capitals could approve a long delay to Brexit, in a last-ditch push to persuade Prime Minister Theresa May to change her negotiating red lines.

During consultations ahead of next week’s EU summit, Tusk said he “will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.”

As president of the European Council, Tusk will be the host of the March 21 summit in Brussels that may be asked to decide whether to push back Britain’s March 29 departure from the Union.

His tweeted intervention came as British MPs prepared the latest in a series of votes on Brexit, this time on whether to ask the EU for such an extension of the “Article 50” process.

May’s government has said it plans to ask for a delay until June 30 if its parliament eventually votes to approve a draft withdrawal agreement already agreed with Europe, but twice massively rejected by lawmakers.

Tusk’s support for a longer delay may encourage pro-divorce MPs fearful that a Brexit deal wold “trap” London in the Union, to look again at May’s proposed deal, which she insists is the best form of departure on offer.

But the EU leader’s insistence on a “rethink” reflects Brussels’ long-standing position that a softer Brexit is possible if May abandons red lines, especially her opposition to joining a customs union with Europe.

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