Europe offers Britain a new deadline of Oct. 31 to sort out its Brexit mess

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By Alexander Smith

BRUSSELS — European leaders offered the U.K. anotherBrexit extension Wednesday, giving it until Oct. 31 to negotiate its exit from the European Union, according to two European Union diplomats.

The decision was the result of a high-stakes, six-hour summit in Brussels that saw prime ministers and presidents gather from across the continent to determine Britain’s fate.

The European leaders also offered the U.K. a “review” in June, according to the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly with journalists. This might enable Britain to terminate the extension early if its lawmakers have agreed an exit deal by then

European Council President Donald Tusk, who hosted Wednesday’s summit, confirmed in a tweet that an extension had been offered but he did not specify a date.

It is now up to British Prime Minister Theresa May whether to accept the offer. Eager to deliver Brexit as soon as possible, she wanted a shorter extension and has vowed not to accept any delay that goes beyond June 30.

However if she declines, Britain will be facing a “no-deal” Brexit on Friday. While this scenario does have its supporters, most experts warn it could tank the economy, bring food shortages, and risk conflict in Northern Ireland.

Almost three years after Britain voted to leave the E.U. in a June 2016 referendum, Europe has become exasperated by the inability of the country’s politicians to agree on a way forward.

Brexit was initially scheduled to occur March 29, and the process has engulfed Britain in division and emotional turmoil, and caused deep rancor for its neighbors.

The British Parliament has rejected the government’s divorce deal three times and dismissed every alternative as well.

Wednesday was the second time May has had to plead with European leaders for an extension.

The struggle to find a solution has seen seismic ruptures in the fabric of British politics, with lawmakers emotional and physically stretched, and each week bringing a new breakdown of parliamentary norms.

Running out of options, May has entered into last-ditch talks with opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, although these have not yet produced results. With both their parties bitterly divided, they could cause permanent splits and resignations no matter which course they take.

In a dramatic effort to end the impasse, May has also vowed to step down if her deal is passed.

Meanwhile, the chaos has seen growing calls for another public vote.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched through London calling for a second referendum, and senior government officials have even come round to saying that this deserves consideration, something that seemed far-fetched even months ago.

A petition to cancel Brexit altogether gained 6 million signatures on the Parliament’s website.

If May were to reject the E.U.’s offer, Britain could technically still go for this most dramatic of options. However lawmakers have in the past shown little appetite for such a solution.

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