Delaying Brexit Would Require U.K. Clarity, Top EU Lawmaker Says

(Bloomberg) -- If Prime Minister Theresa May seeks to delay the date when the U.K. leaves the European Union, she’s going to have to make the request very specific, according to a key EU lawmaker.

Danuta Huebner, head of the European Parliament’s constitutional-affairs committee, said the prospect of a U.K. withdrawal from the EU on March 29 without a divorce agreement is so alarming that Britain’s partners in the bloc would seriously consider a later date for departure to ensure it took place in an orderly fashion.

Delaying Brexit Would Require U.K. Clarity, Top EU Lawmaker Says

But such a British proposal, which would require the unanimous support of the 27 other EU governments, would need to offer a detailed road map including with regard to European legislative elections scheduled for May 23-26, according to Huebner.

“We would be open to discuss this issue,” she said in an interview on Monday in Brussels. “It would have to be a request that would say very clearly for what, for how long and also that would have the line on how they will cope with the European election issue.”

European Elections

Jitters are growing across Europe that the U.K. will crash out of the EU in less than two months -- with dire economic consequences -- after May failed to win British parliamentary support for a Brexit deal she spent a year and a half negotiating.

U.K. lawmakers are now pressing her to reopen the accord, which the rest of the EU refuses to alter and which the 28-nation Parliament must also approve. Some British officials, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, have said the March 29 deadline for the country to withdraw may need to be delayed.

Were the Brexit process to be extended beyond the EU Parliament elections in May, the U.K. should take part in the ballot to respect the letter of European law on the matter, Huebner said.

“The treaty makes it very clear that every European citizen has the right to elect his or her representative to the European Parliament,” she said. “We know cases of member states ignoring European law from time to time, but I wouldn’t encourage doing it.”

She said a plan to reallocate 27 of the U.K.’s 73 seats in the assembly among some member countries while reducing its overall membership to 705 from 751 could be put off until after any delayed British withdrawal.

‘Wishful Thinking’

Huebner dangled the possibility of tweaking a political declaration on future relations with the U.K. and extending the Brexit process. She said this route may include some “wishful thinking” on her part and require the U.K. government to alter some of its Brexit red lines, including an insistence on leaving the European single market and the customs union.

The EU is committed to upholding its barrier-free internal market and Britain’s partners in the bloc have “reached the maximum of what we can do without clearly undermining what is for us a sanctum,” she said.

“Those who leave, if they want to leave fully, then there are of course consequences,” Huebner said. “I personally have doubts whether the political declaration can be adapted without some changes to the red lines.”

A “certain level of ignorance” in the U.K. regarding “what really Europe is about” is “shocking,” she said.

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