EU leaders give Britain ‘last chance’ for orderly Brexit
European Union leaders warned Britain on March 22 it had a final opportunity to leave the bloc in an orderly fashion after giving Prime Minister Theresa May two weeks' reprieve until April 12 before Britain could tumble out without a deal.
Arriving for a second day of a summit dominated by talks over Britain's departure, Belgium's prime minister said he hoped for a "rational" decision by British lawmakers to back the withdrawal treaty that May concluded with Brussels.
Preparations for a no-deal, in which Britain would face sudden trade barriers and restrictions on business, still were underway, however, Charles Michel told reporters.
"This is perhaps the last chance for Britain to say what it wants for the future," Michel said. "More than ever, this is in the hands of the British parliament," he said, adding that the 27 EU leaders were not blind to the risks of a no-deal.
Seven hours of summit brainstorming on March 21 kept a host of options open for leaders, who say they regret Britain's decision to leave but are eager to move on from what they increasingly see as a distraction.
A first-ever leaders dinner debate over the EU's China policy at the summit was delayed until Friday, for example.
May, who met leaders at the summit but missed out on the dinner because the 27 were forced to focus on Brexit rather than China, originally wanted to be able to delay Britain's departure until June 30 to tie up legislative loose ends.
But now, a May 22 departure date will apply if parliament rallies behind the British prime minister next week. If it does not, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or choose to quit the bloc without a treaty.
That date corresponds to the six weeks' legal notice required for the EU election - which the bloc would insist Britain hold on May 23 if it remains a member. If it does not hold the election, leaders said, the very last date Britain must leave would be June 30, before the new EU parliament convenes.
"We wanted to support May and we showed that," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. "It was an intensive, but successful evening."