Theresa May seeks Brexit delay from Merkel and Macron

By Rob Picheta and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN

Updated 0957 GMT (1757 HKT) April 10, 2019
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11:06 a.m. ET, April 9, 2019

BREAKING: One-year Brexit extension "too long" for France

LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images
LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images

France considers a one-year extension to Brexit to be "too long," a spokesman for Emmanuel Macron has said, ahead of the French President's meeting with Theresa May on Tuesday.

A delay until March 31, 2019 was floated during last month's EU Council summit, but was ultimately not pursued -- and France appears set to block such a plan were it to be raised again.

The spokesman reiterated that the Withdrawal Agreement between May and the EU cannot be revisited, and also said Britain would need to accept "strict conditions" if it is to receive a lengthy Brexit delay.

He raised concerns over whether the UK would interfere in the running of the EU during an extension period. "The EU must keep functioning and any Brexit delay must preserve the functioning of the EU," he said.

"It’s logical that when you’re a member looking to leave you can’t build with the others," the spokesman went on, adding that it would "make sense" for Britain to be excluded from the process of setting the EU budget or choosing the next President of the European Commission.

Those conditions would placate fears stoked by hardline Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who tweeted last week that Britain "should be as difficult as possible" within the bloc if granted a long delay.

"In the event of a long extension the (remaining) 27 could demand reviews to look at whether the UK is honoring its commitments not to block the EU’s decision-making," the Élysée spokesman said.

"We don’t want to bet on the functioning of the EU. We can’t say to ourselves 'everything will be fine' (if) that’s not the case. It’s not about being nice or not nice. There’s a difference between a leaving member state and a member state. We can’t risk the European Union," he added.

Those tough words indicate that Macron will again prove a holdout in Europe's discussions over a second Brexit extension. The French leader seemed more willing than most to allow Britain to crash out with no deal in March.

But Macron's spokesman was keen to push back on the idea that he is being unfair to Theresa May.

"France being portrayed as a bad cop is not correct. We are looking for solutions but we need to stay firm," the spokesman said.

11:04 a.m. ET, April 9, 2019

Another Brexit extension? Don't be so sure

Analysis from CNN's Luke McGee in Brussels

May and Merkel meet in Berlin on Tuesday.
May and Merkel meet in Berlin on Tuesday. Omer Messinger/Getty Images

Brexit complacency in London is about to collide with Brexit frustration in Brussels.

Ever since Theresa May requested another Article 50 extension last week, its approval has largely been seen in Westminster as a given (though opinions vary as to how long it might be).

Despite tough words from French President Emmanuel Macron in recent days, the fact that EU leaders offered a generous extension last time, going in some respects against the will of the President of the EU Council, has given rise to a kind of extension complacency in London.

The UK missed the first Brexit deadline when it voted for a third time against Theresa May’s Brexit deal on March 29, the day that the UK was initially scheduled to leave the EU.

Missing Brexit day last month has done something to thinking in London. Miss one deadline, and suddenly missing the next two or three becomes a moot point.

The thinking is not the same in Brussels. It should never be forgotten that all the EU has ever wanted is certainty. That is why its preferred option has been May’s deal being approved.

The fact that the UK keeps voting down the Withdrawal Agreement and agreeing on nothing in the House of Commons is causing immense frustration beyond London.

So, while it remains true that there is very little political will for a no-deal Brexit in any corner of Europe, it should be in the minds of all watching this summit that Friday is still slated to be no-deal day.

The EU Council doesn’t meet until 6pm tomorrow. Everyone is tired of Brexit and bored of talking about it. And if we’ve learnt anything over the past three years, it’s that only a fool tries to predict anything when it comes to Brexit.

11:02 a.m. ET, April 9, 2019

Goverment aide braces for sack after backing second referendum

Huw Merriman at a People's Vote rally in London on Tuesday.
Huw Merriman at a People's Vote rally in London on Tuesday. TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

Campaigners pushing for a second Brexit referendum have received a significant boost from an unlikely source.

Huw Merriman, a Conservative MP and private secretary to Chancellor Philip Hammond, has called for a second, confirmatory referendum on Theresa May's Brexit deal to get it over the line in Parliament -- and says he expects to lose his job over the stance.

Appearing at a rally organized by the People's Vote campaign in London on Tuesday, Merriman -- who supports May's Withdrawal Agreement -- said he has "reluctantly" come to the conclusion that the only way to salvage the plan is by putting it back to the public.

"I have fiercely opposed a second referendum," he said at the event, according to the Press Association.

"But I find myself here on this platform, at this critical time for our country, because, along with many more MPs on all sides of the House of Commons, I have reluctantly come to accept that the solution to the deadlock in Parliament is to let the people back into this decision."

Merriman earlier told BBC Radio 4 that it was "likely" he would lose his post. But he noted that Conservative MPs had been granted a free vote on the issue during the two rounds of indicative votes on alternative Brexit options -- a contradiction he labelled "politics of the madhouse."

What this means: A handful of Conservative backbenchers have backed a second referendum, and 15 voted for one during the second round of indicative votes. But an aide to the Chancellor publicly calling for another vote is a significant development.

Until now, the push for a so-called People's Vote has been led by Remain-backing MPs. Merriman's move suggests a new bloc of Conservatives supportive of May's plan could emerge as another lobby in favor of the approach.

Whether or not he loses his job is another significant question. Merriman is practically daring May to sack him -- and every moment he remains in his post will enrage hardline backbenchers in the Conservative party more.

But his boss, Philip Hammond, has previously said that a second vote is a "coherent" proposition. If Merriman stays, it could be read as another sign that a second referendum is not being viewed in government as the radical plan it once was.

9:51 a.m. ET, April 9, 2019

A message for Theresa May

While Theresa May sat down with Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany's liberal opposition party the FDP attempted to sway her thinking on Brexit.

"Dear Theresa May: Just do it. Stop Brexit," was the party's message, written on the side of a van that drove past the German Chancellery as the two leaders met. The sign urged May to "Make the most of Europe's opportunities."

Merkel's spokesman has tweeted a picture from inside the meeting between the two leaders. The talks were billed as a "working lunch" by Downing Street, though the image suggests May might have left with an empty stomach.

The prime minister has already left Berlin and is heading to Paris, where French President Emmanuel Macron -- a key holdout so far on Britain's requests for an extension -- is likely to give her a rougher ride than Merkel.

By the end of the day, May will hope to have sounded out Europe's two key players, ahead of the all-important EU Council summit on Wednesday.

9:01 a.m. ET, April 9, 2019

Government meets Labour team for more cross-party Brexit talks

Labour's negotiating team arrives at the Cabinet Office for Brexit discussions with government ministers on Tuesday.
Labour's negotiating team arrives at the Cabinet Office for Brexit discussions with government ministers on Tuesday. NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images

While Theresa May gallivants across Europe in search of clarity over her proposed Brexit extension, members of her cabinet are sitting down for another round of talks with the opposition Labour party.

The Government is represented in Tuesday's negotiations by a large group of ministers. Chancellor Philip Hammond, May’s de facto deputy David Lidington, Brexit Minister Stephen Barclay, Business Minister Greg Clark, Environment Minister Michael Gove, and Chief Whip Julian Smith are involved in the conversations, a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is represented by Shadow Brexit secretary Kier Starmer and Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, as well as Gove's counterpart Sue Hayman and Clark's opposite number, Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Talks between the two sides have so far failed to produce a breakthrough.

Labour's negotiating team is keen to ensure that any agreement reached with the government cannot be overturned by a new prime minister in future.

"Some of that discussion that will take place will be about how any deal is secure for the long term and how best to secure that either through domestic legislation or treaty, McDonnell told reporters on Tuesday, according to the Press Association.

8:40 a.m. ET, April 9, 2019

May en route to Paris

The UK prime minister isn't wasting time on her whistle-stop tour of European capitals. Theresa May has already departed Berlin, following a brief meeting with Angela Merkel, which featured a somewhat awkward arrival (see below).

The two leaders sat down for a working lunch, during which May "outlined the steps the government is taking to bring the Brexit process to a successful conclusion," according to a Downing Street spokesperson.

The PM also updated Merkel on the ongoing discussions with the opposition Labour party.

"The leaders agreed on the importance of ensuring Britain’s orderly withdrawal from the European Union," the spokesperson added.

She's now on her way to Paris, where she will hold similar talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.

That will be another key meeting -- Macron was the major opponent to granting Britain a Brexit extension at last month's European Council summit, and he's expected to pursue a similarly hard line during Wednesday's discussions.

Merkel, meanwhile, will be talking with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Tuesday evening, as conversations continue ahead of Wednesday's crunch summit.

8:35 a.m. ET, April 9, 2019

May misses her mark ... again

From CNN's Atika Shubert in Berlin

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the Chancellery on Tuesday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the Chancellery on Tuesday. Omer Messinger/Getty Images

British Prime Minister Theresa May showed up a few minutes early for her talks with Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin on Tuesday. 

Merkel wasn’t ready, and so was not there to pose for the traditional handshake photo opportunity in front of the world's press. 

May went straight in -- possibly keen to avoid being locked in the car like last time -- but was left hanging around the lobby until Merkel arrived and steered her back outside to pose for photos.

8:16 a.m. ET, April 9, 2019

Juncker and Merkel to chat ahead of Brexit meeting

From CNN's James Frater in Brussels

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will speak to Angela Merkel later on Tuesday, after the German chancellor has concluded talks with UK PM Theresa May.

Alexander Winterstein, a spokesperson for the European Commission, said:

[Jean-Claude Juncker] spoke yesterday as you know with Prime Minister Theresa May, he will speak this evening with Chancellor Merkel and he will meet tomorrow at around 14h00 Prime Minister Mark Rutte. All of this obviously in view of the Special European Council.

May is in Berlin on Tuesday lunchtime to seek Merkel's views on a further Brexit extension request. The visit comes ahead of an emergency meeting of the EU27 on Wednesday, at which May's plea for more time to resolve the Brexit conundrum will be formally considered.

8:10 a.m. ET, April 9, 2019

What May can offer Europe

Theresa May will head back to Brussels again on Wednesday in an attempt to secure a further extension to the Brexit process from the European Union.

She finds herself in a similar predicament to the last time she visited, having recently lost yet another Withdrawal Agreement vote in the UK House of Commons, and facing a deadlocked Parliament.

But CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson says there is a silver lining, because she has reached out across party lines and is now in technical discussions with the opposition Labour Party.

What Theresa May will take to Brussels tomorrow -- and what she'll take to Berlin and Paris today -- is something aspirational. It's this aspiration that she can reach out across the political divide here and find a path forward for Brexit in Britain," Robertson explains.

It's a tricky position for May to be in, given that the bloc has heard these promises before -- numerous times over the last few years -- Robertson points out, adding it's "going to be a tough message to sell."