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No meal, and maybe no deal, for May as EU leaders face off

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British PM Theresa May and European Council president Donald Tusk face off in Brussels. Photo: Donald Tusk/Twitter/PA Wire

British PM Theresa May and European Council president Donald Tusk face off in Brussels. Photo: Donald Tusk/Twitter/PA Wire

PA

British PM Theresa May and European Council president Donald Tusk face off in Brussels. Photo: Donald Tusk/Twitter/PA Wire

The threat of a no-deal Brexit remains very much alive after the EU wrangled over setting a point of no return for British prime minister Theresa May.

The UK's exit from the EU will not now happen in seven days' time.

Instead, Mrs May is expected to get an extension until May 22 if she can finally get support for the Withdrawal Agreement next week.

However, should the House of Commons reject the deal for a third time, the UK would have only until April 12 to decide whether to crash out or begin preparations for holding European Parliament elections.

Dinner

Mrs May was to have been a guest at the EU leaders' summit dinner last night, but that invitation was cancelled when disagreement over various Brexit dates persisted.

Efforts to stave off a cliff-edge scenario last night led to fighting between EU superpowers, with Germany leading the charge to show flexibility and France taking a hard-line.

During a private meeting in Brussels, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told Mrs May it is the British parliament's responsibility to make sure the UK does not crash out without a deal.

She then faced more than an hour of questioning from other prime ministers who wanted to know what chance, if any, there is of securing a consensus in Westminster.

A growing intolerance of the chaotic UK political system is evident among EU leaders, with French president Emmanuel Macron saying if MPs vote no to the Withdrawal Agreement again, "it will guide everybody to a no-deal for sure. This is it".

Planning for a no-deal scen- ario is continuing in Dublin, but many unanswered questions remain.

It is still not clear how much financial support the EU will supply for the agricultural sector in the event that devastating tariffs are applied on beef and other products.

There are still no answers as to how an open border will be maintained, other than an assumption there will be difficult talks in Brussels shortly after the UK falls off the cliff.

Ireland will argue that Mrs May must agree to regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the EU to maintain frictionless trade on this island.

Mr Varadkar told reporters that if the UK does end up leaving the EU without an exit deal, it will be entirely by its own choice.

Mrs May put a brave face on her predicament, saying she was still working on getting her parliament's approval.

"I am still working on ensuring that parliament can agree a deal so that we can leave in an orderly way," she said.

EU diplomats said Mrs May's request for a delay to June 30 was not acceptable because European Parliament elections must by law happen in the last week of May.

Over the course of last evening, France and Belgium are understood to have argued for the UK to get out of the EU before a May 9 summit in Romania to celebrate the "renewal" of Europe.


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