March 21, 2019 / 8:43 AM / a month ago

Britain says EU could hold emergency summit to offer conditional Brexit extension

LONDON (Reuters) - The European Union could next week hold an emergency summit to offer a Brexit extension with potentially onerous conditions such as holding another referendum, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is seen outside Downing Street in London, Britain March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Britain is due to leave the EU at the end of next week, and with parliament yet to approve Prime Minister Theresa May’s exit deal, the final outcome is uncertain with the legal default that the country leaves on March 29 with or without a deal.

“There could be and we don’t know there will be an EU emergency summit to offer us an extension,” Hunt told BBC radio.

“We don’t know what the length would be and it could have some very onerous conditions,” such as holding another referendum. He said such an option would be unlikely to be supported by the British parliament.

Hunt said the government did not yet know whether May’s twice-defeated Brexit deal would be brought back to parliament next week.

“Do we resolve this or have Brexit paralysis?” Hunt said. He said a no-deal exit on March 29 remained the legal default.

Hunt said if the deadlock remained next week - parliament still had the option to vote to revoke Article 50 and cancel the entire Brexit process, though it was “highly unlikely”.

The foreign minister said May’s decision on Wednesday to blame lawmakers for delaying Brexit was an expression of “extreme frustration”.

Hunt said May has faced the greatest pressure of any British leader in living memory outside of wartime.

“Let’s forget the extraordinary pressure that she is personally under,” he said. “Anyone in her shoes would have found this a difficult process.”

Hunt ruled out allowing lawmakers to take control of the Brexit process and hold a series of indicative votes because he said it was up to the government to decide and parliament should not negotiate international treaties.

Hunt said the Brexit process had sapped Britain’s national confidence

“We need to remember now what we are capable of as a country and we need to remember that the economy has not suffered in the way many people thought it would,” he said.

“The fundamental choice is do we resolve this issue or do we have extreme unpredictability?

Reporting by Andrew MacAskill. Editing by Guy Faulconbridge

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