Guardian News and Media /London
Emmanuel Macron has warned that Britain is heading for a no-deal Brexit unless the House of Commons ratifies the withdrawal agreement negotiated with Brussels.
The stark choice for MPs was laid out by the French president shortly before the 27 EU heads of state and government listened to an appeal by Theresa May for a three-month Brexit delay.
“In case of a no vote or a no, directly it will guide everyone to a no deal, for sure,” Macron said. “This is it. We are ready.”
The British prime minister asked the EU for a Brexit delay until June 30 to allow time to pass the necessary withdrawal legislation should she get her deal through the Commons next week.
Arriving at the summit, May told reporters: “I am here to discuss with fellow leaders a short extension of Article 50 until the end of June.
“As I said on Wednesday, this delay is of personal regret to me. But a short extension would give parliament the time to make a final choice that delivers on the result of the referendum.” The EU is to reject that plea but instead agree in principle to a shorter extension of article 50 up to May 22, to avoid any complications from the lack of European elections in the UK.
France has been one of the most vocal EU members in insisting a long Brexit delay should only be granted if there is a big change in British politics, such as a majority for a different kind of future relationship with the bloc.
Macron, however, appeared to downplay such a development, saying he needed to see “a clear majority” for a different mandate.
“No extension either if there is not a clear majority to give a mandate on the future relationship,” he said. “We must respect the will of the British people, but also the European project. European leaders understand and respect the will of the British people, but we defend the interests of our own people.
“We are ready for Brexit. France didn’t choose this, the British people did. We can feel sorry about it, but we have had time to prepare for it, legally and technically. The European project must continue and must be stronger.”
The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said the situation would “get easy” if MPs supported the withdrawal agreement.
But he added: “If not, we will have to meet again next week … we don’t rule this out, we also don’t welcome it, but I wish that there will be agreement by the British parliament to what May and I have negotiated last week in Strasbourg.”
A special summit, possibly held in Brussels next Thursday, could be an opportunity to approve a longer Brexit delay – should there be a dramatic development in British politics – or a chance to finalise no-deal preparations.
Asked when Juncker would lose patience with Westminster, he responded: “I didn’t even know I had this much patience.” EU diplomats have warned there is a growing sense in Brussels and some capitals that there is “nothing more to be done – we are finished”.
Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, said: “If there is no support in the parliament, a no-deal scenario gets more realistic, and that is not good for the UK and also not good for us in the European Union.” Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, offered Downing Street more hope as she arrived at the summit. “Everyone is aware that this (summit) is a historical event and that’s why we have to treat it carefully and work until the last minute to achieve a regulated exit,” she said.
Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, spoke of his frustration with the process, saying: “I have the feeling that I am in the waiting room for Godot and Godot is never coming.” He said his “biggest wish” was that the UK might change its mind in favour of a second referendum, in which the electorate would be “really informed of the situation”.
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