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British Prime Minister Theresa May Asks EU Leaders For 'Short Extension' To Brexit


With just eight days to go before the United Kingdom was to leave the European Union, the EU agreed to delay Brexit. The U.K. will not crash out on March 29 as many were increasingly beginning to fear. But just how much longer Britain has is uncertain.

To explain all of this now, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt, who's been following all the events from London. Hey, Frank.


CHANG: So what's this new agreement that came out of tonight's meetings in Brussels?

LANGFITT: Well, there are two parts to it, Ailsa. One is if members of Parliament next week pass Prime Minister May's very unpopular Brexit deal, the EU will give a delay to the U.K. until May 22.


LANGFITT: If not, the U.K. will only have until April 12.

CHANG: Why April 12?

LANGFITT: There's a really important reason for that, and that is that's a deadline for putting up candidates for European parliamentary elections. And what the EU is basically saying is, you know, are you in, or are you out? If you're going to put up candidates, then you're going to be in for a long time. If you're...

CHANG: Right.

LANGFITT: ...Not, we're going to want you to get out pretty fast.

CHANG: OK. And what's the likelihood that Prime Minister Theresa May will be able to get her deal through Parliament next week?

LANGFITT: It's really low, Ailsa, and that's probably one of the big reasons that the EU extended - 'cause they knew how difficult it's going to be for her. If you remember, last night she gave a speech to the nation where she blamed Parliament for the whole paralysis in this country. That went over very poorly. People were very upset with her - lawmakers here. And of course these are the same people that she needed to get votes from.

CHANG: Right.

LANGFITT: The last vote she had on this she lost by 149. And so most people here don't think she's going to be able to get it through next week.

CHANG: So if it does fail, what's next?

LANGFITT: Well, they would have up until the 12th to kind of figure out what to do. And this does provide some breathing space - not a lot - to come up with some kind of new plan. This is how Donald Tusk - he's the president of the European Council - put it tonight after the meeting in Brussels.


DONALD TUSK: All options will remain open, and the cliff-edge dates will be delayed.

LANGFITT: Now, those options - it's going to be up to Prime Minister May and Parliament - could be a softer Brexit, maybe a second referendum or to cancel Brexit altogether.

CHANG: How is May responding tonight?

LANGFITT: Well, one of the things she said is there's no way she's going to cancel Brexit...

CHANG: Yeah.

LANGFITT: ...As long as she's prime minister. There was vote in 2016. She has said all along, we're going to respect that. She is going to try to get the deal through next week. I don't think most people have much hope of that. She also said she's against putting up candidates for the European parliamentary elections, which means, again, you know, we're going to get past this cliff edge on March 29. But most likely if things play out as people expect, there will be another one coming up in mid-April and a lot of pressure on her and Parliament to get something figured out. Of course she's very unpopular now. There could be more pushes for her to resign. We're just going to see how this plays out in the next few days.

CHANG: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt covering the story that never seems to end. Thank you, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.