EU leaders lukewarm on British PM's Brexit extension request

Theresa May's plea for another delay to EU departure draws tepid response from France, Germany, Netherlands.

    Leaders in Europe have poured cold water on British Prime Minister Theresa May's request for a 12-week Brexit extension, arguing it does not amount to a clear and credible plan for the UK's departure from the European Union.

    In separate statements on Friday, Dutch, German and French officials all called on May to clarify her plan to take the UK out of the bloc in advance of an EU summit set to take place on Wednesday, when her postponement proposal will be considered.

    The British prime minister earlier on Friday sent a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk asking Brussels to delay Brexit until June 30 in order to ensure an "orderly" exit.

    The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU on April 12, with British legislators' failure to agree on any scheme for exiting the 28-member bloc raising the possibility of a so-called "no-deal" departure - something May and her EU counterparts are eager to avoid.

    'Delay a tool, not a solution'

    French President Emmanuel Macron's office suggested it was "premature" to consider a postponement in the absence of a clear plan from London.

    "A delay is a tool, but not a solution in itself," a presidential source told the AFP news agency.

    Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte meanwhile said May's request raised "many questions", adding "a delay only makes sense if we understand the reason for it".

    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas echoed Rutte's concerns and said May must clarify her plan before the upcoming EU summit so European leaders could "form an opinion on an extension" and "under what circumstances" any postponement could take place.

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    All EU member states must give unanimous backing to any deadline extension, with officials already rejecting a request by May for an extension to the end of June at a summit last month, instead offering the April 12 deadline.

    Britain had initially agreed to an EU departure date of March 29 but amid successive failures to get her Brexit deal signed off by the UK Parliament, May has been under pressure to push the deadline back in order to avoid a no-deal exit.

    In the face of continued opposition to her plan, including from within her own Conservative Party and its government partner, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the prime minister has turned to main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the hope of creating cross-party consensus on an exit strategy.

    Labour has called for any departure deal to ensure the protection of the "exact same benefits" as the UK currently has as a member of the EU's single market and customs union.

    Tusk to float 'flexible' extension

    Amid the continued uncertainty, Tusk is considering proposing an offer of a 12-month "flexible" extension to the Brexit date, the BBC reported on Friday, citing a senior EU source.

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    Reacting to the report, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said a longer delay to the UK's departure from the bloc might be favourable.

    "None of us want no deal next week but we also want to avoid rolling extensions because that just adds to the uncertainty so perhaps a longer extension might make more sense," Varadkar told Irish national broadcaster RTE.

    A further delay to Brexit could result in the UK taking part in European Parliamentary elections, due to take place between May 23 and 26.

    May proposed in her letter that if MPs approve a divorce deal in time, the UK should be able to leave before the elections take place.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies