EU27 leaders spent nearly seven hours drafting and arguing over different scenarios to kick the can down the road that little bit further. Officials blamed the lengthy discussions on their “ill-prepared” leaders and Mrs May’s late request to delay Brexit. But in reality, leaders were far more concerned about their lack of trust in the Prime Minister to successfully win the support of MPs for her deal. The Prime Minister was eventually handed an unconditional extension until April 12 in order to “indicate a way forward”, which could include Britain holding European elections, a second referendum or a general election.
But if she can pass her draft EU withdrawal deal through the House of Commons, Brussels will give the Government until May 22 to pass the legislation to implement Brexit.
The delay, negotiated by leaders and their closest aides, essentially allows Brussels to blame Britain for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.
Their exchange of views created a flurry of proposals, leading to a unique moment in Brexit negotiations – a split in the EU27’s unity for the first time, according to one source familiar with the talks.
Talks spread over several sessions – 90 minutes with Mrs May, a five-hour formal session amongst the 27 that even overspilled into the working dinner on Chinese relations – before a decision was reached.
Emmanuel Macron was forced to backdown from tough Brexit demands by other EU leaders
Once again excluded from dinner, Mrs May refused an offer of roast duck and chocolate deserts being feasted upon as Brexit talks rumbled on beyond midnight.
French President Emmanuel Macron attempted to take centre-stage amongst his colleagues, trying to cut short Mrs May’s request for an extension of Britain’s membership to the EU.
Mr Macron proposed an unconditional offer that would have seen Britain leave the EU on May 7, with or without a deal. The date was significant as it is days before the bloc’s so-called ‘future of Europe’ summit in the Romanian town of Sibiu.
The French leader is expected to use the informal EU gathering, the first without Britain as a member, to push the Brussels project closer to his vision of a European utopia.
Mr Macron recruited Belgian prime minister Charles Michel and Luxembourg leader Xavier Bettel to push his unconditional offer.
More sensibly, the date was avoided as it would clash with the May 8 Victory in Europe Day, on which Britain and France celebrate Nazi Germany’s World War Two surrender.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel cut a more “flexible” character, rarely speaking but asking her colleagues tough questions on the reality of no deal for trade and the Irish border.
Portuguese prime minister Antonio Costa proposed a far more radical plan by delaying Brexit “as long as the UK deems necessary” as long as Britain held European Parliament elections in May.
Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, also proposed a more open-ended approach in order to prevent chaos on the border.
Theresa May shunned day two of the European Council summit to return to London to work on her deal
Despite their careful planning, EU leaders were left pessimistic by Mrs May claims that she was closing in on securing a Commons victory on her Brexit deal.
The Prime Minister “utterly lacked clarity” in her presentation, according to one EU diplomat. Another said she refused to reveal her “plan B” if the deal is voted down.
A third added: “She didn’t say anything different from her previous addresses to the EU 27.
“She’s still convince she can get her deal through Parliament.”
Last night, Mr Macron said: “The responsibility now lies with the British, and I think that’s the big achievement of the day.”
Mr Bettel, this morning, cut a more cautious figure when entering the European Council’s Europa building for the second day of the leaders gathering.
He put the Prime Minister’s chance of winning support for her deal at “50-50” and suggested “the best possible outcome would be a new referendum and to stay” in the EU.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said all the EU “can do is hope once again that there will be a majority after all”.
The Prime Minister decided to shun the second day of the Brussels summit, which kickstarted with celebrations of the European Economic Area’s 35-year anniversary, in order to work on her Brexit deal in Westminster.
Mr Bettel joked: “I slept very well. I haven’t slept so well thinking of Brexit in a long time.
“She wrote to me this morning to tell me that she was leaving already to start working in London to convince the Parliament.”