BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed readiness on Thursday to back a short extension to Britain’s planned exit from the European Union, suggesting that the June 30 date requested by Prime Minister Theresa May was problematic.
May has asked European Council President Donald Tusk to delay Brexit from March 29 until the end of June and said she was preparing for a third vote in the British parliament on the exit deal she arduously negotiated with the European Union.
Addressing the German lower house before a summit of EU leaders, Merkel appeared to share concerns by the European Commission that May’s proposed delay means Britain would still be an EU member during European Parliament elections in May.
“With regard to the date of June 30, we have to take into consideration that we have European elections in May,” Merkel said “This means the future and legality of the European election must be respected. But we can surely talk positively about a short extension.”
A European Commission document seen by Reuters said the delay should either be several weeks shorter, to avoid a clash with the EU elections, or last at least until the end of the year, which would oblige Britain to take part in the vote.
In her speech, Merkel echoed Tusk’s position that it would be possible to grant Britain a short postponement if parliament backs May’s proposed agreement next week, after voting it down twice before.
Merkel said Germany would back May’s request that EU leaders approve an agreement governing the Irish “backstop,” which she described as the most difficult aspect of Brexit.
The backstop is intended to prevent the return of a hard border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland, if no trade agreement is reached that makes it unnecessary.
May secured an agreement with the EU earlier this month that provides some guarantees that the bloc cannot use the backstop to trap the United Kingdom indefinitely in its customs union.
“The second request was to delay the exit date to June 30. The leaders of the EU 27 will intensively discuss this request. In principal, we can meet this request if we have a positive vote in the British parliament next week about the exit document,” Merkel said.
Reporting by Joseph Nasr and Michelle Martin; editing by Janet Lawrence, Larry King