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British Prime Minister Theresa May Asks For Another Delay Of Brexit


The European Union has agreed to extend Brexit until Halloween. That means the U.K. will not crash out of the EU with no deal this Friday. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, just spoke, and he said he had this message for his British friends.


DONALD TUSK: This extension is as flexible as I expected and a little bit shorter than I expected. But it's still enough to find the best possible solution. Please do not waste this time.

CHANG: For more on this story, we turn now to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Alisa. How are you?

CHANG: I'm sorry. It's really late over there. So what does this extension mean?

LANGFITT: Well, what he said - you just heard from Donald Tusk - this is a flexible extension. And the idea is that the United Kingdom could have up until October 31 to get its ducks in a row, to get some kind of Brexit withdrawal agreement passed through the Parliament. But if it does it before the 31st, they can leave earlier, and that will be attractive to a lot of members of Parliament who don't want to be stuck in the EU for a long time.

CHANG: Yeah.

LANGFITT: The other thing that Donald Tusk said is that during this time, the United Kingdom would still have all the regular rights of an EU member but would be expected to kind of behave itself and not try to disrupt things. And there's a concern that if there's a Brexiteer prime minister who comes in after Prime Minister May, they might try to cause some trouble.

CHANG: And why the choice of Halloween for the next deadline? I mean...

LANGFITT: So (laughter)...

CHANG: Is someone trying to be funny here?

LANGFITT: They're not trying to be funny, but I think it's totally appropriate given that the way Brexit has gone, it has been pretty much a horror story from pretty early on. But that's not the real reason for this. This is actually a compromise between Emmanuel Macron, the president of France. He wanted a much shorter window for the United Kingdom to get this done. He is concerned about the U.K. hanging around too long in the EU and maybe being disruptive.

Other - many other countries were willing to go nine months, perhaps even a year. So they're splitting the difference. And that's also for another reason. The European Commission - this is the group that proposes legislation within the EU. They take their seats on November 1. So the idea is get the U.K. out before then. You know, the whole idea is for the U.K. to leave. But as time goes on, they have to keep, you know, running for offices and continuing to stay very involved in the EU.

CHANG: Now, where does Prime Minister Theresa May go from here because she has been trying and trying and trying to get an agreement.

LANGFITT: She has. And I think what you'll see is - we haven't heard from her yet this evening. We may hear very soon. But she is probably going to come back to the United Kingdom and continue to try to work out a compromise with the opposition Labour Party. The Labour Party would like a customs union that would keep basically goods being able to trade practically seamlessly between the EU and the United Kingdom. Brexiteers are not happy with that. They don't want that at all. They would like to see much more of a firm walking away from the European Union. They hope that the U.K. could then strike new trade deals with other countries.

I think you could see pressure building for the prime minister to resign. The longer this is going to go on, the - her conservative party is going to have to be thinking she is very damaged goods of course. She's not very popular. Who would they have lead them forward? And I think it's going to be fascinating to see how that plays out because she doesn't look like she's going anywhere. She looks like she'll probably stand her ground.

CHANG: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Thanks so much, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.