Spotlight: May under fire for seeking another Brexit extension

Source: Xinhua| 2019-04-06 04:15:07|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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LONDON, April 5 (Xinhua) -- Prime Minister Theresa May's plea Friday to European Council President Donald Tusk to delay Britain's departure from the EU until June 30 came as talks between the ruling Conservative government and Labour opposition entered their third day.

May's de facto Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington and Labour's shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, along with their negotiating teams, have yet to find a breakthrough to end a parliamentary impasse over a new deal with the EU.

May's spokesman said at a Downing Street media briefing Friday that the talks could continue into the weekend.

"It's an ongoing process; we're taking one discussion at a time. We continue to focus on trying to reach a joint outcome that we can put to the European Council," the spokesman said.

May plans to spend the weekend at her Chequers country retreat with no plans at the moment to meet opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.


In a letter, May has told Tusk she still hopes a Brexit solution can be found by May 23 to avoid Britain taking part in the European Parliament elections. But her plea has generated criticism, anger and mixed opinions across the political divide in Britain.

The Labour Party accused May's government of failing to offer "real change or compromise" during the third round of talks to end the current Brexit deadlock.

The Labour statement came at the end of the talks between May and Corbyn, which started on Wednesday.

The previous two rounds of talks failed to result in a breakthrough, although the two sides agreed to continue discussions.

"We urge the prime minister to come forward with genuine changes to her deal in an effort to find an alternative that can win support in Parliament and bring the country together," the Labour statement said.


Leave supporting Conservative MP and former minister Owen Paterson said his party should "go nuclear and push for a no-deal Brexit," adding that "Conservatives have nine days left to save themselves from political annihilation."

Politician Steve Baker, deputy chair of the European Research Group (ERG) of pro-leave Conservative MPs, said: "If only the government would abandon pursuit of a customs union in all but name, this crisis would end."

The campaign group People's Vote, which wants a second Brexit referendum, criticized May's decision to seek another extension.

Veteran Labour politician and former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, who supports the campaign, said in a statement: "The good news is that the prime minister has accepted there has to be an extension to the Brexit deadline. The bad news is that yet again she has chosen the worst option and done so for the worst reason, just to keep her failed strategy and her Brexit deal alive."

Beckett added: May "is taking both the British people and EU leaders for fools because we all know this is just another time-buying, can-kicking effort to hold her bitterly divided party together."


Stephen Gethins, Europe spokesman for the Scottish Nationalist Party, said: "More than three years on from the EU referendum and the prime minister's approach is still dictated by can-kicking and chaos."

Gethins said that with the British Parliament unable to reach a consensus it must now be the priority that the issue is brought back to the people in a fresh second EU referendum, with the option to remain on the ballot paper.

The Green Party's only MP at Westminster, Caroline Lucas, commented: "The prime minister is at odds with reality. The EU rejected this proposal just weeks ago. We're now at the mercy of their decision. This is a national humiliation. Far from taking back control, we are now completely at the mercy of the EU27.

"This letter also undermines ongoing talks with Labour by effectively ruling out a people's vote on the final deal. Both party leaders, and our EU partners, must recognize that we need more time to get out of this gridlock, and not force Parliament to make a decision in days which it's been impossible to get to in almost three years."


Meanwhile, Brexit is having an impact on domestic politics. In a parliamentary by-election in South Wales, the result on Friday showed Labour's candidate Ruth Jones holding onto the House of Commons seat with a much reduced majority of less than 2,000 over the second-placed Conservative candidate. In the 2016 referendum, the people of the Newport West constituency voted Leave by a 56-44 margin.

Jeremy Corbyn, speaking in Newport to celebrate Jones' election win, said: "Labour is putting forward an agenda, which is about maintaining our market relationship with Europe and, above all, defending our rights and regulations which are so important to underpin the basics of employment standards in this country. Those are things we are absolutely insisting on."

May's letter to Tusk comes as an existing April 12 deadline for Britain's departure approaches, having already extended the original March 29 date when Britain should have either left the bloc or agreed a withdrawal deal with Brussels.

Media reports in London said Tusk was likely to suggest what has been described as a 12-month "flextension" to Britain. It would allow Britain to leave at any point in the next year if a deal is agreed by Parliament.

Unless the EU grants a second extension, Britain is scheduled to leave the bloc by next Friday -- unless a deal has been agreed.

Britain's departure date was set in March, 2017 when it triggered an EU process known as Article 50. That started a two-year countdown to departure. Any extensions have to be agreed by all 27 member states of the EU.