Emmanuel Macron will play hardball with Theresa May on Brexit delay

Theresa May will be back in Berlin and hoping for a rather more graceful arrival than during her last Brexit dash to the German capital.

Back in December, the world’s media watched on as the prime minister found herself temporarily locked in her car while her German counterpart waited uncomfortably on the red carpet.

The optics made for convenient headlines about a failure to exit.

PM and EU at odds over Brexit extension

:: May in diplomatic dash to Berlin and Paris to get support for Brexit delay

Months on Mrs May returns, still seeking an escape route from the European Union and hoping for a sympathetic ear from her German counterpart.

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In Angela Merkel she will find a leader whose priority has long been to ensure a managed and agreed Brexit and – as the head of the economic powerhouse of the EU – the chancellor’s word will hold sway.

Whilst Mrs Merkel has regularly talked about a long extension – recommend by the President of the European Council Donald Tusk ahead of a crunch summit tomorrow – she is reported to understand Mrs May’s worries that this would lift pressure on the Commons to ratify the withdrawal agreement.

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And the prime minister will cling to that as she seeks to secure a 30 June exit.

Still, whilst a powerful voice, Mrs Merkel’s is just one amongst 27 EU leaders who will have to unanimously agree any grace period for the UK, and Germany is known to have clashed with France over the way forward.

Emmanuel Macron has taken a much tougher stance than many EU leaders on the UK’s continuing membership of the union, warning last week that no deal is on the cards and that the EU can no longer be held hostage to the UK’s political crisis.


                              Emmanuel Macron will play hardball with Theresa May on Brexit delay

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Many Tory MPs were furious at Mrs May's decision to reach out to Jeremy Corbyn

Posturing? Brinkmanship? Or a real threat?

Whilst Mr Macron will play hardball with Mrs May and his EU counterparts who are more sympathetic to an extension, many doubt he would ultimately go against the will of a more conciliatory pack – and the pleas of Ireland – and insist the UK must go now.

But he will make demands, insisting the UK cannot use prolonged engagement to disrupt the functioning of the EU by attempting to scupper the budget or official appointments (the French did not take kindly to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s tweet saying: “If a long extension leaves us stuck in the EU we should be as difficult as possible.”)

He is also insisting on a clear plan from Mrs May with solid political backing at home before agreeing to any extension.


                              Emmanuel Macron will play hardball with Theresa May on Brexit delay

Mogg: PM’s difficulties her ‘own creation’

And for that he has not only Mrs Merkel’s backing, but others in the bloc.

And it could prove the difficultly when the 27 meet.

Because Mrs May seems a long way off delivering that.

Will Mr Macron prove less willing to take a leap of faith than others or will he see a long extension as a means to get the UK off the EU’s back for a while, an opportunity to take Brexit off the continental agenda whilst Mrs May sorts the politics at home?

It will be lunch in Berlin for Mrs May, dinner in Paris – an opportunity to sway the heavyweights of the EU before they head to Brussels for a summit which could decide Brexit will happen hours later.

Could the Prime Minister’s powers of persuasion will be tested like never before?

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