The Latest: Croatia leader backs strict Brexit deadlines


BRUSSELS (AP) — The Latest on Brexit (all times local):

9 p.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May will be laboring against the odds once again to win backers in Parliament for her unloved Brexit deal to a timetable dictated by the European Union.

Almost three years after Britons voted to walk away from the EU, the bloc’s leaders seized control of the Brexit timetable from May. That averted a chaotic departure on March 29 that would have been disruptive for both the world’s biggest trading bloc and for Britain.

In a move that underlined their loss of confidence in May, EU leaders set two deadlines for Britain to leave the bloc of nearly half a billion people or to take an entirely new path in considering its EU future.

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She has until May 22 if she can get UK lawmakers to pass her Brexit plan. If not, she has until April 12 to decide upon a range of options, including leaving the EU with no divorce deal.


5:40 p.m.

A key figure in the Democratic Unionist Party has suggested the Northern Ireland party is still opposed to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal deal.

Deputy leader Nigel Dodds said Friday that “nothing has changed as far as the withdrawal agreement is concerned.”

He said the party will not accept a deal that threatens the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom.

The DUP is important because its votes prop up May’s minority government. The prime minister needs to convince its 10 legislators to back the bill if she is to have any hope of winning Parliament’s approval. The bill has already been defeated twice by substantial margins.

Dodds says May “missed an opportunity” at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday to put forward proposals that could have made the deal more attractive.


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5:05 p.m.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson says Britain is “dangerously close” to the “full-scale disaster” of leaving the European Union without an agreement.

In a blog post released Friday, Branson argues that Britain is facing a national crisis because Prime Minister Theresa May is “no longer acting in the national interest” and has limited lawmakers to a choice between the agreement she negotiated and a so-called ‘no-deal’.

He says thousands of jobs have been lost already and 1 trillion pounds ($1.32 trillion) in assets have been moved out of the country as financial institutions execute contingency plans.

Branson says the “U.K. government must now put all options on the table, and giving the people a final say must be one of these options.”

Virgin’s businesses range from airlines to financial services and media.


5:35 p.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron says Brexit is more a “political lesson” than a lengthy technical negotiation.

Speaking at the end of the European Council in Brussels, Macron said the failure by Britain to deliver Brexit more than two years after deciding to leave the bloc proves that “a proposition to leave Europe without a project leads to an impasse.”

Macron however insisted that governments should listen to their people if they want to avoid a “disaster.”

“We should respect what the British people have decided,” he said. “We need to hear our people, we need to address their fears. We can’t play with fears, or simply tear up pages without offering anything else.”

Macron added in case of a no-deal Brexit, the first victims would be Britain’s less well-off.

“We would continue to have a strong relationship with United Kingdom,” he said. “I’m not rejoicing at all. It’s terrible.”  


4:20 p.m.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar says some European Union leaders were against giving Britain a delay to Brexit, but agreed out of solidarity with others in the bloc.

Varadkar says EU nations that lie farther from the U.K. “are kind of sick of this” and were reluctant to prolong the Brexit process any further.

But Ireland and other neighbors of Britain are intent on avoiding a chaotic and economically disruptive U.K. departure. He says the doubters “came with us in the end because of European solidarity.”

EU leaders agreed late Thursday to give British lawmakers a few more weeks to try to approve the divorce deal that British Prime Minister Theresa May has struck with the bloc.

Varadkar told reporters the extension “gives a little breathing space” for Britain to decide among three options: “no deal, the withdrawal agreement or a much closer relationship with the EU.”

He says “I honestly don’t know what the most likely option is.”


3:55 p.m.

European Council President Donald Tusk is happy about the outcome of the Brexit summit but says there’s nothing more the EU can do to help Prime Minister Theresa May.

At the end of a two-day summit in Brussels, Tusk said that “the fate of Brexit is in the hands of our British friends.”

Tusk, who chaired the meeting of EU leaders, said “we are prepared for the worst but hope for the best. As you know, hope dies last.”

May resumes her political battle in the U.K. Parliament to win the endorsement of the Brexit deal she agreed to with EU leaders in November.

The leaders have accepted to delay Brexit from March 29 until May 22 if the British leader succeeds. Should she fail, the EU has given her until April 12 to come up with some new approach.


12:55 p.m.

Wholesale florists at London’s new Covent Garden Market say the delay to Britain’s planned March 29 departure from the European Union is adding to business uncertainty.

Dean Porter of Deanos Flowers says “I think it’s a joke and I just want us to get on with it and get out. I’ve had enough of it.”

He says he prefers Britain leave the EU bloc without an agreed withdrawal deal.

He says “we voted to leave.”

But florist Dennis Edwards takes the opposite view, hoping that the impasse in Parliament leads to a second referendum that would keep Britain in the union.

He says “I’d vote overwhelmingly to stay.”

David Gorton of GB Foliage says the confusion about Brexit is putting a damper on business plans.

He says “there’s no confidence. No one is spending any money.”


12:25 p.m.

The prime minister of non-EU member Norway says there is “still an imminent danger” of Britain crashing out of the bloc without a deal.

Erna Solberg says, “the most important thing” is that Britain works out what it wants and that lawmakers “don’t just vote down proposals but vote for a way forward.”

Solberg spoke Friday in Brussels where she marked the 25th anniversary of the European Economic Area with counterparts from Iceland and Liechtenstein. They were invited as guests of the European Council.

Late Thursday, EU leaders rejected British Prime Minister Theresa May’s request to extend the Brexit deadline from March 29 — just one week away — until June 30.

Instead, they agreed to delay only until May 22, on the eve of EU elections, if May can persuade Britain’s Parliament to endorse the Brexit deal. Failing that, Parliament would have until April 12 to choose a new path.


11:40 a.m.

Germany’s main business lobby group is calling on Britain to put a swift end to the “excruciating uncertainty” companies face and resolve its Brexit impasse.

European Union leaders have agreed to give London a bit more time to try and pass a twice-rejected divorce deal or choose a new path, but the agreement doesn’t make any clearer what will ultimately happen.

Joachim Lang, the chief executive of the Federation of German Industries, said that “our companies need clarity. To ensure that, British politicians must conclude the Brexit process as soon as possible.”

Lang said that “Parliament in London should weigh the alternatives and accept the withdrawal agreement.” He added that “Europe has more to deal with than just the British withdrawal.”


11:10 a.m.

Labour lawmaker Hilary Benn says Prime Minister Theresa May needs to start considering alternatives to her divorce deal with the European Union to avert the crisis a no-deal Brexit would bring.

The day after EU leaders agreed to extend the deadline for Britain’s departure, Benn told the BBC “this is a crisis delayed but this is not a crisis avoided, and we need to get on with it.”

Benn, the leader of the House of Commons’ Brexit Committee, is calling for debate on alternative proposals to begin Wednesday but says this won’t work if May is “not prepared to move an inch.”

Benn says it is time to “open up this process” because Parliament has already rejected the prime minister’s deal and the option of leaving without a deal.


10:45 a.m.

Croatia’s prime minister says European Union leaders are protecting their citizens and businesses by setting strict deadlines for Britain’s departure from the bloc given the impasse in the U.K.

Andrej Plenkovic said Friday that the EU is safeguarding “the stability, credibility, and reliability of legal system of the union and its institutions and the decisions which are taken.”

EU leaders have granted a Brexit delay until May 22 should Prime Minister Theresa May convince Parliament to accept her deal, or failing that until April 12 to take an entirely new approach.

Plenkovic says Croatian citizens want to know whether they will have 12 candidates in the May 23-26 EU polls or only 11, if Britain remains a member country.

He regrets the result of the Brexit referendum in Britain in 2016 and says EU leaders “are negotiating something we didn’t want.”


8:05 a.m.

European Union leaders are gathering again Friday after deciding that the political crisis in Britain over Brexit poses too great a threat to the world’s biggest trading bloc.

In a move that underlined their loss of confidence in British Prime Minister Theresa May, the leaders, set two deadlines for Britain to leave or to take an entirely new path in considering its EU future.

At marathon late night talks, the leaders rejected May’s request to extend the Brexit deadline from March 29 — just one week away — until June 30.

They agree to delay only until May 22, on the eve of EU elections, if she can persuade Britain’s Parliament to endorse the Brexit deal. Failing that, May would have until April 12 to choose a new path.


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