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British MPs back idea of Brexit extension to June 30 ahead of EU summit

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By Euronews with Reuters
The House of Commons votes on PM May's extension request
The House of Commons votes on PM May's extension request   -   Copyright  REUTERS (screenshot)

British MPs have this afternoon endorsed Prime Minister Theresa May's request to the European Union to delay Brexit until June 30, adding weight to the pitch she will make to EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday.

The vote is a result of moves by Labour MP Yvette Cooper that sought a legally-binding way of stopping the UK leaving the EU without a deal agreed.

The motion was passed with 420 votes in favour and 110 against, with the support of the opposition Labour Party and despite a rebellion from hardline Tories who want Brexit sooner.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday met German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron to seek support for her extension request on Tuesday evening.

While it was not immediately clear what Merkel and Macron, Europe's two most powerful leaders, agreed with May, an advance draft of conclusions for Wednesday's emergency EU summit said Britain would be granted another delay on certain conditions.

"The United Kingdom shall facilitate the achievement of the Union's tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union's objectives," read the draft seen by Reuters.

Read more: What do EU leaders say about another Brexit extension?

Highlights of MPs' debate on extending Brexit until June 30

Solicitor-General Robert Buckland opened the debate saying the bill passed last night -- compelling Theresa May to request MPs approve an extension to Brexit -- was "unnecessary," considering the government's position that "leaving with a deal is the best way to leave the EU."

He urged MPs to vote in favour of the government extension request until June 30, insisting it would deliver a successful exit plan.

"Whilst all sides recognise the urgency with which we need to make progress, given where we are and that this will be challenging we cannot be certain that an extension until just May 22 would provide us with sufficient time," Buckland told parliament.

Labour MP Matthew Pennycook first slammed the government's handling of Brexit, saying it should be "mortified" to ask for a second extension.

He said his party would back any “reasonable” article 50 extension beyond 30 June but that it should serve "a worthwhile purpose" with a duration set accordingly.

Conservative MP Owen Paterson said the UK should leave the EU this Friday at 11pm BST in order to respect the people's vote.

He was echoed by Tory MP Tim Loughton who called the bill "a catastrophe" and a part of a "conspiracy of chaos to undermine Brexit."

Labour MP Yvette Cooper advocated in favour of a 'flextension' — a flexible extension to the Article 50 period — while Tory Anne Main said an open-ended extension was "very concerning."

"It’s appalling that we may be seeking an extension with no real sense of purpose," Main said. The risk with having an exit so far down the road is that people who voted for Brexit will be dead by then and Remainers will argue the country needs to vote again, according to Main.

Labour MP Hillary Benn said he would vote in favour of the extension motion and made the case for a second referendum. He said he came to the conclusion that the country should now ask the British people if they wish to confirm their original decision in light of reality, rather than the fantasies circulated in 2016.

May and Merkel agree to ensure 'orderly withdrawal'

Earlier on Tuesday, May and Merkel discussed the UK’s request for an extension of Article 50 to June 30 with the option to bring this forward if a deal is ratified earlier, a Downing Street spokesperson said.

The British Prime Minister also updated Chancellor Merkel on the ongoing discussions with the Opposition.

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

'One-year delay too long for France'

Shortly before May was due to land, an official in Macron's office said that "in the scenario of an extended delay, one year would seem too long for us".

He added that, if Britain did delay its exit, it should not take part in EU budget talks or in choosing the next president of the EU executive, the Commission - and that the other 27 member states should be able to review its "sincere cooperation".

'EU ready to grant delay'

On the eve of an emergency EU summit in Brussels, chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc was ready to grant a delay, but that the duration "has got to be in line with the purpose of any such extension".

"Any extension should serve a purpose. The length should be proportional to the objective. Our objective is an orderly withdrawal," Barnier told a news conference in Luxembourg.

"No-deal will never be the EU's decision. In order to avoid no-deal, the UK needs to agree to a deal," Barnier said.

EU leaders, fatigued by the three-year Brexit crisis, have repeatedly refused to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement that May agreed in November. Barnier repeated that, though he held open the option of agreeing much closer post-Brexit ties.

Talks with Labour continue

Talks between Prime Minister Theresa May's government and the opposition Labour party on Tuesday to find a way out of Britain's Brexit impasse were wide-ranging and productive and will continue on Thursday, a spokesman for May said.

"We have had further productive and wide-ranging talks this afternoon, and the parties have agreed to meet again on Thursday once European Council has concluded," the spokesman said.

"We remain completely committed to delivering on Brexit, with both sides working hard to agreeing on a way forward, appreciating the urgency in order to avoid European elections," he said in a statement.

"We have yet to see the clear shift in the government's position that is needed to secure a compromise agreement," a Labour spokesperson said after Tuesday talks.

Labour's demands include keeping Britain in a customs union with the EU, something that is hard to reconcile with May's desire for Britain to have an independent trade policy, and a second referendum on any deal.

Without an extension, Britain is due to leave the EU on Friday, without a deal to cushion the economic shock.