Theresa May agrees to extend Brexit until October

European Union leaders have granted the UK a six-month extension to Brexit, after five hours of talks in Brussels

The UK must now hold European elections in May, or leave on 1 June without a deal
The UK must now hold European elections in May, or leave on 1 June without a deal

Britain will remain as a member state of the EU until 31 October, with the option to leave earlier if Theresa May can secure Commons support for the Brexit deal.

European Council president Donald Tusk said his "message to British friends" was "please do not waste this time".

Theresa May, who had wanted a shorter delay, said the UK would still aim to leave the EU as soon as possible.

The UK must now hold European elections in May, or leave on 1 June without a deal.

May had earlier told leaders she wanted to move the UK's exit date from this Friday to 30 June, with the option of leaving earlier if her withdrawal agreement was ratified by Parliament.

Tusk emerged from the talks, and a subsequent meeting with May, to address reporters at a news conference late Wednesday evening.

"The course of action will be entirely in the UK's hands, they can still ratify the withdrawal agreement, in which case the extension can be terminated," he said.

Tusk said the UK could also rethink its strategy or choose to "cancel Brexit altogether".

"Let me finish with a message to our British friends: This extension is as flexible as I expected, and a little bit shorter than I expected, but it's still enough to find the best possible solution," he added. "Please do not waste this time."

What was agreed?

  • A Brexit extension "only as long as necessary" and "no longer than 31 October" to allow for the ratification of the withdrawal agreement
  • The UK "must hold the elections to the European Parliament" and if it fails to do this, the UK will leave on 1 June
  • The European Council reiterates there can be no reopening of the withdrawal agreement negotiations

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, "There will probably be a European election in the UK, that might seem a bit odd, but rules are rules and we must respect European law and then we will see what happens."

May told reporters, that although the delay extends until 31 October, the UK can leave before then if MPs pass her withdrawal deal.

"I know that there is huge frustration from many people that I had to request this extension," she said. "The UK should have left the EU by now and I sincerely regret the fact that I have not yet been able to persuade Parliament to approve a deal."

"I do not pretend the next few weeks will be easy, or there is a simple way to break the deadlock in Parliament. But we have a duty as politicians to find a way to fulfil the democratic decision of the referendum, deliver Brexit and move our country forward." she added.

May said that the UK "will continue to hold full membership rights and obligations [of the EU]" during the delay.

The EU had been split over the length of delay to offer the UK and by law they had to reach a unanimous decision. Although other EU countries backed a longer delay, French President Emmanuel Macron pushed for a shorter extension.

Macron said, "For me, this is a good solution." He said EU leaders had partly decided to back a delay because May had explained she had started talks with the opposition party, "a first in decades in the British political system".

Joseph Muscat told reporters that the 31 October deadline was "sensible" as it "gives time to UK to finally choose its way".

So far, MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement May reached with other European leaders last year and the House of Commons has also voted against leaving without a deal.

One of most contentious parts of the plan is the Irish backstop - an insurance policy that aims to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland.

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