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EU to offer short 'final final' Brexit delay

French president Emmanuel Macron and EU president Donald Tusk. Credit: AP

As I mentioned last night, EU President Donald Tusk’s suggestion of a Brexit delay of a year or so seems to have been torn up - notably by France’s president Emmanuel Macron.

I was told by those involved in preparations for the emergency Brexit summit on Wednesday that the most likely outcome of the special summit is another kicking of the Brexit can down the road, but only till a bit after the elections for the European Parliament at the end of May.

The big problem with a long delay, for France and its President in particular, was that it would give the UK too much power - in their view - to vandalise the EU till EU leaders felt cowed into tearing up the Northern Ireland backstop (hated by Tory Brexiters and DUP).

EU leaders trust Theresa May to abide by the convention that all EU members, including Brexiting ones, should engage with each other in a spirit of “sincere cooperation” - but do not trust she will be PM much longer.

And they have little faith that a successor such as Johnson or Raab would not blow up their budget preparations, for example.

EU leaders feel Theresa May will not be PM for much longer. Credit: PA

The widely mooted option of trying to strip the UK of voting rights during an extension is hard. Far easier to keep the postponement as short as possible.

What this means is that if the delay is agreed on Wednesday, the new Brexit day would probably be some time in June or July.

And for the first time it would probably be a genuine deadline, according to sources.

Some in the EU see it as that momentous date I have been presaging for months - a delayed date for a no-deal Brexit.

But no-deal would not be inevitable, even if it is close to impossible to see how a version of the prime minister’s deal could ever be approved by MPs.

There will always be the scope to delay Brexit by holding a referendum or even a general election. And the option of revoking Brexit will always be there.

The priority of the emergency EU council, according to a well-place official from a European capital, is “to keep responsibility [for what happens] in the UK”.

In the words of an intimate of those making historic decisions on both sides of the Channel: “It is the slow scenic route to a no-deal Brexit in late summer under a new PM.”

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