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March 19, 2019, 5:18 p.m. EDT

EU negotiator says U.K. better make up its mind on Brexit

Frustrated EU official says a delay — if requested — is no sure thing

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By Associated Press

European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier speaks Tuesday in Brussels.

LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan has been derailed in Parliament. Now she is at the mercy of an exasperated European Union.

May was preparing Tuesday to ask the EU for a delay of at least several months to Brexit after the speaker of the House of Commons ruled that she can’t keep asking lawmakers to vote on the same divorce deal that they have already rejected twice.

Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc wouldn’t automatically grant the request. He said a long extension “must be linked to something new, a new event, or a new political process.”

“The real question is, what is the purpose of it. What is it for?” Barnier said in Brussels.

“To get out of this uncertainty, we need choices and decision from the United Kingdom.”

May had hoped to win over her domestic opponents and bring her deal back to Parliament before a summit of the 28-nation bloc in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

That plan was scuttled Monday by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, who declared that Parliament can only vote again if the deal is “fundamentally different” to the version rejected by 230 votes in January and 149 votes last week.

The deadlock leaves Britain’s plan to exit the European Union — still scheduled to take place on March 29 — in limbo.

The prime minister’s Downing Street office said May will send a letter formally requesting an extension to European Council President Donald Tusk on Tuesday or Wednesday. Downing Street wouldn’t say how long a delay she plans to ask for.

If the Brexit deal was approved, May had planned to ask the bloc for an extension until June 30 in order for Parliament to pass the necessary legislation for Britain’s departure.

Now a much longer delay looks likely. May has warned opponents that a failure to approve her agreement would mean a long, and possibly indefinite, delay to Britain’s departure from the EU.

It could also mean Britain crashing out of the bloc next week without a deal, even though Parliament has voted to rule out that option.

By law, the U.K. will leave the EU on March 29, deal or no deal, unless it secures a delay from the bloc. Withdrawing without a deal could mean huge disruption for businesses and people in the U.K. and the 27 remaining EU countries.

The EU is intensely frustrated with Britain’s political paralysis, and says it will only grant an extension if U.K. politicians break their deadlock and come up with new proposals.

“If there is no decision, the date of March 29 comes and then it’s a ‘no-deal,’” French European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau said. “For the British to decide nothing is to decide on a ‘no-deal.’”

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