(Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)
(Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

London: EU leaders on Friday called for clarity from Britain before considering any delay to Brexit after a series of chaotic votes by MPs just two weeks before the deeply divided country is due to leave the bloc.

Quitting the EU after 46 years on March 29 remains the legal default unless EU leaders unanimously grant Britain an extension, with the issue likely to dominate a March 21-22 EU summit in Brussels.

The length of any possible delay will depend on the outcome of another parliamentary vote on the twice massively rejected Brexit deal struck by Prime Minister Theresa May with EU leaders.

The government said it would ask for a “technical” delay until June 30 to pass necessary legislation if MPs finally approve the deal next week. If MPs vote against it for a third time, the government has warned it will be forced to seek a much longer delay.

“It is very clear that the next steps, the next proposal on how to move forward must come from Britain,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin on Friday. French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said that if the current deal is rejected again “a clear and new alternative plan” must be presented or else Britain would have to leave the EU with no agreement.

The British government is hoping that talk of a long delay to Brexit will persuade hardliners in May’s own Conservative Party and its ally, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to get behind her deal. Speaking on a visit to Paris, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said “everyone would welcome”

MPs approving the deal and Brexit being briefly pushed back to get the necessary legislation through. But, asked about the possibility of a longer delay, Coveney said: “I think many EU leaders will be very uncomfortable with a long extension.”

He said Ireland would only consider it if it was to “implement a clear plan and strategy to reflect on and perhaps change direction in regard to Brexit”. EU leaders have hinted they could support a longer delay only if Britain were to drop its red lines, particularly its insistence on leaving the EU customs union so as to pursue an independent trade policy.

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