Theresa May begs EU leaders for Brexit delay as Conservatives prepare to fight European elections

Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron Getty
  • Theresa May heads to Europe to prepare the ground for another Brexit delay.
  • The prime minister will meet with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday ahead of an EU summit on Wednesday.
  • The EU is set to reject May’s request for a short extension to Brexit, favouring a longer flexible extension instead.
  • May’s Conservative party begins its preparations to fight the upcoming European Parliament elections.
  • Visit for more stories.

LONDON – Theresa May will head to Paris and Berlin on Tuesday and plead with senior European leaders to grant Britain another delay to Brexit, as her party begins preparations to fight the upcoming European Parliament elections.

The prime minister will ask the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emannuel Macron not to block her request for a delay until June 30, ahead of the special European Council Brexit summit on Wednesday.

However, a leaked memo suggests European leaders will reject May’s request for a short delay unless she passes a Brexit deal in the UK parliament this week, which currently appears unlikely.

EU leaders could instead back a plan to extend Brexit by either 9 months or a year, meaning that Britain could still be an EU member almost four years after British people voted to leave.

However, President Macron is the EU leader seen as most hostile to any extension and could potentially veto a further delay.

May’s dash to Europe comes as the Conservative party officially begins its preparations for the upcoming European Parliament elections.

“Due to the current situation we will be contesting the European elections on May 23rd,” party officials emailed prospective Conservative candidates on Monday.

May’s deputy David Lidington also laid a legal order on Monday to allow the elections to go ahead, just weeks after the prime minister suggested that she would resign rather than allow a long extension.

The Conservatives fear being hit badly in upcoming elections by any decision to delay Brexit. Elections expert Lord Hayward has predicted that the party will suffer a significant “Brexit penalty” in May’s local elections.

Smaller opposition parties are also expecting to benefit from public dissatisfaction with both the major parties at the European elections.

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is hoping to make gains with his new Brexit party and pro-European former Labour and Conservative MPs in the Independent Group are also expected to stand candidates.

May and Corbyn talks go nowhere fast

The rush to secure support for a new Brexit delay comes as talks with the opposition Labour party falter.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told journalists on Monday evening that the government had yet to make any significant offer of compromise to the party.

“Talks have to mean a movement and so far there’s been no change in [their] red lines,” Corbyn said.

Expectations that May would concede that Britain could stay in the Customs Union – the bare minimum demand from Labour in negotiations – have not yet been met.

The prime minister on Monday reportedly all but ruled out such a concession. In meetings with Conservative backbenchers and ministers yesterday she insisted that Britain would retain an independent trade policy.

The Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer also dashed hopes of a cross-party deal, telling Labour MPs on Monday that the party would only back an agreement that had almost total support among Labour MPs. A large number of Labour MPs back holding a second EU referendum, which the prime minister has repeatedly ruled out.

Discussions between the two parties will continue on Tuesday.