European Union leaders were poised to grant Prime Minister Theresa May a second delay to Britain's fraught exit at an emergency summit on Wednesday, after arguing over how long and on what terms.
French President Emmanuel Macron was pushing to withhold any commitment to extend Friday's deadline much beyond elections to the European Parliament on May 23-26 unless May binds herself, and any potentially more anti-EU successor, not to disrupt the workings of Brussels.
“Nothing can be taken for granted,” Macron warned, voicing frustration with a lack of clarity from London nearly three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc.
Three weeks ago, Macron's impatience with France's historic cross-Channel rival dominated the last summit, when Brexit was put back by a fortnight. Diplomats said he was again facing a more cautious line from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said she favored an extension of “several months.”
“The question isn't whether there will be an extension but for how long and under what conditions,” a senior diplomat said.
Keen to ease tension, Merkel broke the ice as talks began by showing an amused May a photomontage on a tablet of both wearing similar jackets when addressing their parliaments earlier in the day. May then briefed the other 27 on her efforts to work with her Labour opponents to find an elusive majority for a deal.
After an hour, she was shown out to spend the evening in the British delegation rooms in the Council building, waiting for the others to decide Britain's fate over dinner.