LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May was set to ask the European Union on Wednesday for a delay to the country's divorce from the bloc, due to take place in nine days. But a frustrated EU warned it could keep Britain waiting for an answer.
May's Downing Street office said she would write to European Council President Donald Tusk requesting "a bit more time" for Britain to approve a divorce deal with the EU, delaying departure past the scheduled date of March 29.
Parliament last week voted for a three-month delay to the end of June, but some EU leaders have suggested another two years might be necessary.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds told the BBC on Wednesday that a shorter delay was the right option.
"I think people are a bit tired of waiting for Parliament to get our act together and get the deal passed," he said.
Britain voted in June 2016 to quit the EU, but almost three years later, its politicians are deadlocked over how — and even whether — to leave.
British lawmakers have twice rejected the Brexit deal May has struck with the bloc. Her troubles deepened when the speaker of the House of Commons ruled earlier this week that she can't ask Parliament to vote on the deal again unless it is substantially changed. That scuttled May's plan to try a third time to get the agreement approved.
If Parliament backed the deal, May had planned to ask the bloc for an extension until June 30 in order for Parliament to pass the necessary legislation for Britain's departure.
May has warned opponents that a failure to approve her agreement would mean a long, and possibly indefinite, delay to Britain's departure from the EU.
She is unwilling to ask for a long extension, which would infuriate the pro-Brexit wing of her divided Conservative Party.
But opponents said a delay of just a few months could leave Britain once again facing a cliff-edge "no-deal" Brexit this summer.
"Theresa May is desperate once again to impose a binary choice between her deal and no deal despite Parliament clearly ruling out both of those options last week," said Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer.
A delay to Britain's withdrawal requires the approval of all 27 remaining EU countries. The head of the bloc's executive branch said EU leaders are unlikely to agree to a delay at a summit this week.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said if May wanted a delay, "she must bring approval of the negotiated deal and she must bring clear ideas on timing."
"My impression is ... that this week at the European Council there will be no decision, but that we will probably have to meet again next week, because Mrs. May doesn't have agreement to anything, either in her Cabinet or in Parliament," Juncker told Germany's Deutschlandfunk radio.
"As long as we don't know what Britain could say yes to, we can't reach a decision."
Britain's political chaos has drawn reactions ranging from sympathy to scorn at home and around the world. On its front page Wednesday, the Brexit-backing Daily Mail newspaper bemoaned the time since the referendum as"1,000 lost days."
From Washington, Donald Trump Jr. said May should have listened to his father, who urged her last year to sue the EU in order to secure better departure terms. The U.S. president has criticized May for not taking his advice.
The president's multimillionaire son blamed "elites" in London and Brussels for scuttling Brexit. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Trump Jr. said "democracy in the U.K. is all but dead."
The gridlock is also causing increasing exasperation among EU leaders.
Juncker said that "in all probability" Britain won't leave on March 29, but he underlined the EU's insistence that it will not reopen the painstakingly negotiated withdrawal agreement that British lawmakers have snubbed.
"There will be no renegotiations, no new negotiations and no additional assurances on top of the additional assurances we have already given," he said.
Juncker said Britain's Parliament needed to decide whether it would approve the deal that is on the table.
"If that doesn't happen, and if Great Britain does not leave at the end of March, then we are, I am sorry to say, in the hands of God," he said. "And I think even God sometimes reaches a limit to his patience."
Moulson reported from Berlin. Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this story.