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EU Shows United Front on Brexit        03/22 06:16

   BRUSSELS (AP) -- European Union leaders took back control of the Brexit 
process from British Prime Minister Theresa May, saying Friday they believe the 
risks were too great and that action was needed to protect the smooth running 
of the world's biggest trading bloc.

   May's mantra since the Brexit referendum in 2016 has always been about 
"taking back control" of U.K. affairs from the EU. But leaders from the bloc 
showed at a Brussels summit that they too have a big say in how Brexit ends up, 
as the political tussle resumes in the British Parliament over how to proceed.

   In a move that underlined their loss of confidence in May as she battles for 
her political survival, the leaders set two deadlines for Britain to leave or 
to take an entirely new path in considering its EU future.

   At marathon late night talks in Brussels, they rejected May's request to 
extend the Brexit deadline from March 29 --- just one week away --- until June 
30.

   Instead, the leaders agreed to extend the date until May 22, on the eve of 
EU elections, if she can persuade the British parliament to endorse the Brexit 
deal. Failing that, May would have until April 12 to choose a new path.

   "British politicians are incapable of implementing what the people asked 
them," French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters. "This crisis is 
British. In no way must we (the EU) become stuck in this situation, so that is 
why we have given two deadlines. We are organized."

   The aim of the EU move is to ensure that Britain doesn't take part in the 
May 23-26 elections if it is leaving. Candidates for the Europe-wide polls, 
being held amid deep concern that mainstream parties could lose seats to 
anti-immigrant groups and populists, must be enrolled by April 12.

   "The U.K. government will still have a choice of a deal, no-deal, a long 
extension or revoking Article 50. The 12th of April is a key date," said EU 
Council President Donald Tusk, who chaired the summit.

   The leaders seized hold of the Brexit process when May --- after repeated 
questioning --- proved unwilling, or perhaps unable, to tell them what she 
planned to do next week if she fails yet again to convince a skeptical British 
Parliament to endorse the deal, EU officials said.

   "We have to move forward. Our citizens, our companies have to be able to 
understand what the choice of the British Parliament is. We hope that it will 
be a rational choice, that it will be a choice to maintain close economic and 
security links with the European Union," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel 
said Friday.

   "We are now waiting for the British to say clearly to the European Union 
what they want for the future," he told reporters.

   The legally-binding Brexit agreement May sealed with her EU partners last 
November has been twice rejected by British legislators, once by a historic 
margin, and she has already angered the legislators by suggesting they are 
responsible the impasse.

   "If Parliament does not agree a deal next week, the EU Council will extend 
Article 50 until 12 April," May said, referring to the EU treaty article 
governing Brexit. "At this point we would either leave with no deal, or put 
forward an alternative plan."

   May also moved to heal the wounds caused by her televised speech to the 
public Wednesday evening --- which some legislators slammed as "toxic" and a 
"low blow," saying that she had "expressed my frustration. I know that MPs are 
frustrated too. They have difficult jobs to do."

   "I hope we can all agree, we are now at the moment of decision," May said.

   The Brexit battle now shifts back to Britain's Parliament. Pro-EU lawmakers 
said the bloc's decision showed that May needed to change course and consider 
alternatives to her rejected deal. They plan an attempt next week to force a 
change of direction by setting out a series of votes in Parliament on 
alternatives, including a plan to keep close economic ties with the EU.

   "We need to open up this process because we have rejected her deal, we've 
rejected no-deal, the EU has decided to give us a little more time and we've 
really got to get on with it," said Labour Party lawmaker Hilary Benn, who 
chairs the House of Commons Brexit committee.

   "This won't work if the prime minister is not prepared to move an inch," he 
said. "I'm afraid that's the story of the last two and three-quarter years."


(KA)

 
 
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