BRUSSELS – European Council President Donald Tusk said on Thursday that the leaders of the 27 remaining European Union member-states have offered the United Kingdom an extension on the implementation of the UK’s exit from the bloc under Article 50.
“EU27 unanimously agrees on its response to UK’s requests. I will now meet PM,” Tusk wrote on Twitter, referring to British Prime Minister Theresa May.
The announcement came after nearly six hours of talks in Brussels.
In a subsequent tweet, Tusk detailed the options available to London.
The extension will run to May 22 if the UK House of Commons votes next week to approve the Withdrawal Agreement that May negotiated with the EU – a text the house has twice rejected, most recently last week.
But if the Withdrawal Agreement is not ratified, the UK will have until April 12 to “indicate a way forward.”
EU leaders turned down May’s appeal for an extension until June 30, citing the UK’s decision not to take part in the May 23-26 elections to the European Parliament.
Several heads of state and senior EU officials have said in recent days that they see no point in granting a longer extension in the absence of what French President Emmanuel Macron called “deep political change” in the UK.
Tusk said that the EU stands by the Strasbourg Agreement, a pact announced by May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offering London legal assurances that Brussels would not exploit the so-called Irish backstop to trap the UK in a permanent customs union.
The backstop is a mechanism to avert the establishment of a hard border between EU member Ireland and the UK province of Northern Ireland, which many fear would threaten the 1998 Good Friday Accord that ended decades of strife in the North among pro-British unionists and Irish nationalists.
In the meantime, Tusk said, the 27 EU nations will continue preparing for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.
“What matters is that we recognize that Brexit is the decision of the British people. We need to deliver on that,” May said in Brussels. “I sincerely hope that will be with a negotiated deal.”
Under UK law, Brexit was supposed to take effect March 29.
In a televised speech Wednesday night, May insisted that the existing Withdrawal Agreement is the best that could be negotiated with the EU, and said she would continue to work “night and day” to gain the support of Conservative Party colleagues critical of the pact and her partners in the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.
May tried to have lawmakers vote for a third time on the Brexit accord before this week’s EU summit, but the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, invoked a centuries-old rule barring repeat votes on the same measure during the same legislature.
He said he would only agree to a third vote if the bill were substantially changed.