Friday 1 February 2019 3:44 AM UTC
LONDON Feb 1: EU officials fear Theresa May is setting the UK on course for a no-deal exit at the end of June because she will not have the political courage to ask for the longer Brexit delay they believe she needs.
Senior officials have been war-gaming the likely next steps by the British government, and believe a delay to the UK’s exit date of 29 March is now inevitable.
But they fear that the prime minister’s strategy of seeking simply to survive from day to day will lead to her requesting an inadequate short three-month extension for fear of enraging the Brexiters in the Conservative party.
EU officials and diplomats said the danger of the UK then crashing out in the summer was an under-appreciated risk given that the escalation of no-deal planning and the cries of betrayal by Brexiters would give momentum to a cliff-edge Brexit.
On Thursday the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, became the first cabinet minister to admit that the two years of negotiations allowed under article 50 may have to be prolonged, describing the current Brexit impasse as “a very challenging situation”.
EU sources suggested that it was unlikely that the heads of state and government of the 27 member states would reject such a request given the pressure that would be applied from the business community.
The EU will try and shape the process, and its deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, said on Monday that the EU’s heads of state and government would need information on “the purpose of an extension”, adding: “The idea of going into serial extensions really isn’t very popular in the EU27.”
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