Theresa May granted Brexit delay at EU summit

By Rob Picheta and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN

Updated 3:21 a.m. ET, April 11, 2019
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5:26 p.m. ET, April 10, 2019

What happens if Macron says non?

Analysis from CNN's Luke McGee in Brussels

It's after 11 p.m. in Brussels and as the summit continues, talk has turned to a hypothetical question: what happens if French President Emmanuel Macron doesn't play ball and crashes the talks?

Disclaimer: we have received no intel to suggest that this could happen. Further disclaimer: the situations below are both entirely hypothetical and, in some instances, unprecedented. That said, let's get into it.

If Macron does decide to give the UK a firm "non" to any kind of extension, then Brexit day is on April 12, which the eagle-eyed among you will note is Friday. This leaves the UK with (as far as we can work out) three options. Let's go through them in order of complexity.

No-deal Brexit: In this scenario, the clock simply runs down and the UK leaves the EU on Friday without an agreement in place. The UK will immediately be outside of single market, customs union and all the other fun EU bodies you've come to know and love over the past three years. With the least popular outcome in the House of Commons suddenly a reality, political turmoil would ensue.

May's deal's last stand: In a mad rush to avoid a no deal, Theresa May could try to reach a compromise with the Labour Party – perhaps confirmatory votes on the future relationship to get the deal approved by Friday. This would start the implementation period and the cliff edge would be avoided. With relative calm and order restored, political chaos would ensue.

Revoke article 50: This is the complicated one. The UK, as we have known since December, can unilaterally withdraw Article 50, thus ending the Brexit process for good and remaining a member state of the European Union.

But it's not that simple. The European Court of Justice said in its ruling that, while the UK can indeed revoke Article 50 unilaterally, it would have to do so in "accordance with its constitutional requirements." In the opinion of the ECJ's advocate general, the UK set a precedent of requiring parliamentary approval for Article 50. Therefore, it is is logical "that the revocation of that notification also requires parliamentary approval."

Ramming an act of parliament – or a bill – through in two days is tricky. The government could either table a bill, which requires debate and for the proposed bill to be scrutinized by parliament via a drawn out legislative process.

This can takes days, weeks or months, though as the so-called Cooper Bill to avoid no-deal Brexit proved last week, they can be forced through in a couple of days.

An easier option could be for the government to place something called a statutory instrument before the Commons. A statutory instrument is a statement of law and is generally considered to be secondary to bill. This option would be quicker, but whether it passes the ECJ test or not is a different question: the decision to trigger Article 50 was passed as a bill.

Getting all of this passed in under 48 hours would be hugely controversial and, yes, political chaos would ensue.

A final point, during the Brexit process, parliament has shown us that if it wants to do something, it usually finds a way (H/T for this observation goes to the Financial Times's political editor, George Parker).

Given that all of this is unprecedented, a bit of a mess, unlikely to happen and it's fast-approaching midnight here in Brussels, there is every chance I have got something wrong. Please feel free to correct me on Twitter, @lukemcgee.

4:52 p.m. ET, April 10, 2019

Theresa May was "decent and clear" during pitch

From CNN’s Erin McLaughlin in Brussels


British Prime Minister Theresa May came across as “decent and clear” in her presentation to the 27 EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday night, an EU diplomat told CNN. 

May had a “clear story and narrative. She set out her position quite astutely,” the diplomat said. 

This is a marked improvement over May’s last appearance before EU leaders during the last Brexit summit, when her speech went down poorly.

4:56 p.m. ET, April 10, 2019

No-deal Brexit isn't the worst option, says French source

From CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne in Brussels

No-deal Brexit is still a possible option, a French government source has told CNN.

"Jeopardizing the functioning of EU operations," is worse than Britain crashing out, the source added.

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to push that stance when speaking to other leaders during tonight's EU leaders' meetings. He will need to convince the other 26 remaining EU heads, many of whom suggested they would support a long extension to Brexit.

This post has been updated to correct the byline.

4:18 p.m. ET, April 10, 2019

Macron unlikely to be swayed by new draft conclusions, diplomat says

From CNN's Erin McLaughlin in Brussels

France's President Emmanuel Macron gets out of his car as he arrives at the EU leaders summit.
France's President Emmanuel Macron gets out of his car as he arrives at the EU leaders summit. ALASTAIR GRANT/AFP/Getty Images

A diplomat has told CNN they doubt the updated draft conclusions for the EU summit will be enough to satisfy French President Emmanuel Macron.

Paragraph seven of the document, which stipulates that Britain will not wreck havoc with EU processes during an extension period, has been amended in an effort to ensure good behavior.

But the diplomat is doubtful that Macron will agree to those conclusions in their current form. The French President earlier told reporters that the UK must not be allowed to interfere with the "European project."

France has been the major holdout against granting Britain an extension until now, but the leaders of countries including Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg also expressed concerns at last month's summit.

3:40 p.m. ET, April 10, 2019

Varadkar comments validate Labour's Brexit plan, Corbyn says

The leader of Britain's opposition Labour party has welcomed earlier comments by Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who expressed hope that Britain would stay in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

Labour has supported maintaining a customs union with the bloc after Brexit, and has spent the last several days in cross-party talks with Theresa May's government in an effort to break the Brexit impasse.

"One thing I would like to see considered and which is under consideration is the possibility of a customs union being formed between the UK and EU," Varadkar told reporters after arriving at the summit on Wednesday.

"Ultimately the EU is the biggest trading bloc in the world, we trade more than China, we've a bigger population than the US, and in a world of big blocs it's in the interests of the UK to be part of one of those blocs," he added.

3:32 p.m. ET, April 10, 2019

Macron or Merkel will decide Britain's Brexit fate

 Leon Neal/Getty Images
 Leon Neal/Getty Images

As European leaders debate whether to grant Britain another Brexit extension, it's expected French President Emmanuel Macron will again be playing hardball.

CNN has seen updated draft conclusions from the meeting, which have been amended over the past 24 hours. Paragraph seven of the document, which instructs Britain not to interfere with the processes of the EU, was boosted with added assurances -- but it's unclear whether that will be enough to satisfy Macron, who has raised concern over Britain's conduct during the extension period.

"Nothing must compromise the European project in the months to come. We have a European renaissance to drive which I believe in, and I don’t want Brexit to block that," Macron said earlier on Wednesday, indicating he may still be reluctant to grant Britain a lengthy delay.

A tweet by hardline Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg last week, saying Britain should be "as difficult as possible" during an extension period, did not play well in Brussels.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, by contrast, is understood to be more open to the idea of a longer extension. Those two are the major players in the room -- and whoever is more persuasive could end up shaping the future of Brexit.

3:01 p.m. ET, April 10, 2019

Warm scallop salad, anyone?

As European leaders hold crunch negotiations over Britain's request for a delay to Brexit, they'll be tucking into a seafood-heavy dinner.

CNN has seen the menu for the 27 leaders' dinner, which features a scallop salad to start and a main course of cod with shrimps.

Here's the full menu:

Starter: Warm scallop salad

Main: Loin of cod with brown shrimps and mini mushroom arancini

Dessert: Iced macadamia nut parfait

It is understood that Theresa May is having her own dinner separately, outside the Council building. It seems she may have dodged a bullet.

2:11 p.m. ET, April 10, 2019

Europe's future will remain unclear if London's Brexit deadlock continues

Analysis from CNN's Luke McGee in Brussels

Despite leader after leader signalling that they support a longer Brexit delay, there remains one notable hold out: French President Emmanuel Macron. 

Whatever the outcome of Wednesday's summit -- and it's looking like there will be an extension granted of some description -- any breathing space that the EU gives the UK will be given with the express instruction that the Brexit deadlock in London needs to be broken.

That still looks unlikely: talks between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party have led nowhere, Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party are barely mentioned these days and the hardline Conservative Brexiteers have, if anything, upped their rhetoric against May’s deal.

But it’s not just in London that a long-game deadlock is starting to emerge. The contrasting tones of the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and France's Macron, point to the unity between European nations that has held firm for the last three years coming a little unstuck.

Arriving in Brussels, Varadkar talked not only about giving the UK a little more time to continue with cross-party talks, but encouraged his fellow European leaders to discuss the possibility of the UK remaining in a Customs Union with the EU.

Macron, conversely, stuck to his harder tone. He wanted concrete reasons for a long extension and made clear that his priority was getting on with a “European renaissance.”

The backdrop to where either leader might be coming from points to differing priorities. For Ireland, avoiding a no-deal Brexit is very important. Not only would it hit Ireland hardest economically, but it carries the very serious risk of a customs border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. That could lead to violence and a return to the dark days of the Troubles.

For Macron, positioning himself as the man at the center of Europe’s future is crucial. Macron is having problems at home. Being tough with the Brits might help bolster his image with French voters which would in turn cement his position with the rest of the EU leaders.

Should the deadlock carry on in London, Europe’s future will once again be up in the air. Until recently, May's Withdrawal Agreement was the best compromise to keep everyone happy. But as new plans emerge, no EU member state wants to be thrown under the bus and seen as a loser for the sake of the UK, a nation waving goodbye to its European partners.

2:09 p.m. ET, April 10, 2019

Theresa May's Brexit pitch is over

British Prime Minister Theresa May has made her case for a short Brexit delay to European leaders, and they have finished grilling her, according to the EU Council's official spokesman.

May spoke for just over an hour, and has now left while leaders of the 27 remaining EU countries begin their own discussions about how to proceed.