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Brexit: Donald Tusk asks the EU to approve 1 year extension

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European Council president Donald Tusk has written to EU leaders urging them to adopt his so-called “flextension” to Brexit of one year.

The letter from Mr Tusk came as France performed a u-turn after an aide to President Emmanuel Macron said that a year would be too long.

France now appears to be on track to accept a further delay to Britain’s departure from the EU.

The UK could still crash out of the EU without a deal on Friday if no agreement is reached at an emergency summit in Brussels.

The unanimous agreement of all 27 remaining members is needed for any delay to be approved.

Theresa May spent the day day holding talks with Mr Macron in Paris and German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. She has been making the case for a delay to Brexit until June 30.

Following the talks in Paris, a Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister met with president Macron in Paris this afternoon ahead of the EU Council meeting tomorrow.

“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.

“The Prime Minister 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.”

MPs voted 420 to 110 to endorse her proposed delay.

Mr Tusk, in a letter to the heads of the 27 remaining member states ahead of a crunch summit on Wednesday, said there was “little reason to believe” that the ratification of Mrs May’s beleaguered Brexit deal could be completed by the end of June.

He called for the European Council to discuss an alternative, longer extension, such as a “flexible extension” lasting “as long as necessary and no longer than one year”.

Mr Tusk wrote: “The flexibility would allow to terminate the extension automatically, as soon as both sides have ratified the Withdrawal Agreement.

“The UK would be free to leave whenever it is ready. And the EU27 would avoid repeated Brexit summits.

“Importantly, a long extension would provide more certainty and predictability by removing the threat of constantly shifting cliff-edge dates.

“Furthermore, in the event of a continued stalemate, such a longer extension would allow the UK to rethink its Brexit strategy.”

He suggested that the EU would grant an extension rather than allowing Britain to leave without a deal on Friday, saying that, given the “risks posed” for those on both sides of the English Channel, “I trust that we will continue to do our utmost to avoid this scenario”.

Mr Tusk’s letter came after the PM arrived in Paris for talks with Mr Macron, who in recent days has warned that an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process is not guaranteed.

Earlier over a “working lunch”, Mrs May and Ms Merkel had agreed on the importance of an “orderly withdrawal” from the EU, Downing Street said.

The unanimous agreement of all 27 remaining EU states is needed to avoid a no-deal Brexit on the scheduled date of April 12.

The visits came as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said Brussels could amend the Political Declaration on future relations with the UK “within a few hours or days” to incorporate the customs union arrangement being discussed in cross-party talks between the Government and Labour.

But there were signs of resistance in Mrs May’s Cabinet to compromise with Labour, with International Trade Secretary Liam Fox warning that a customs union would leave the UK “stuck in the worst of both worlds”.

Mrs May has asked for the date of Brexit to be delayed until June 30 at Wednesday’s summit, with the possibility of an earlier departure if the UK’s withdrawal deal is ratified.

MPs backed her call in a Commons vote on Tuesday afternoon as they approved a Government motion for Mrs May to seek an extension to June 30 by 420 votes to 110, majority 310.

However 97 Conservatives rebelled by opposing the plan – including former Brexit secretaries David Davis and Dominic Raab.

Meanwhile the cross-party talks seeking to break the Brexit impasse will resume on Thursday, with Labour saying the Government had not yet made a “clear shift” in its position.

A party spokeswoman said: “We had further detailed and wide-ranging talks with Cabinet ministers and officials today.

“We have yet to see the clear shift in the Government’s position that is needed to secure a compromise agreement.

“We have agreed to hold further talks on Thursday in an effort to break the Brexit deadlock, and find a compromise that can win support in Parliament and bring the country together.”

A Downing Street spokesman said the talks were “productive” and “wide-ranging”, adding: “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.”

Additional reporting by PA

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