British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday wrote to Brussels asking for a delay of Brexit until up to June 30, while saying she aims to get Britain out of the EU earlier to avoid it participating in European elections.
But Donald Tusk, who chairs EU summits, has proposed a longer Brexit postponement of one year for Britain's feuding politicians to agree and ratify a plan.
"The only reasonable way out would be a long but flexible extension. I would call it a 'flextension'," an EU official said.
Any such extension would still require unanimous approval of the other 27 EU countries and some, notably France, suggested they wanted a better justification from London for its request.
Britain is now due to leave the EU in a week, but May has been forced to seek more time after Britain's parliament repeatedly rejected her withdrawal agreement.
Her Conservative Party is deeply divided, as is the main opposition Labour Party, leading to a bewildering marathon of inconclusive votes in parliament that stretched Britain's centuries-old unwritten constitution to its limits. Scenarios running the gamut from abandoning the EU abruptly with no deal to cancelling Brexit altogether have all gone down to defeat.
Obscure parliamentary procedures have been resurrected, providing daily drama from the House of Commons but making the future of Britain's biggest change in generations no clearer.
After finally recognising that her minority Conservative government could not push through a Brexit deal on its own, May started talks this week with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the hope of coming up with a cross-party solution.
But that means accepting the need for more time, including the possibility of Britain holding European Parliament elections on May 23, which May has long hoped to avoid at all cost.
"The United Kingdom proposes that this period should end on 30 June 2019," May said in the letter.
“The government will want to agree a timetable for ratification that allows the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union before 23 May, 2019, and therefore cancel the European Parliament elections, but will continue to make responsible preparations to hold the elections should this not prove possible."