In Brief

Theresa May and EU agree Brexit delay to 31 October

PM warned by Donald Tusk ‘do not waste this time’

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Theresa May said the UK would still aim to leave the EU as soon as possible after she and the EU agreed a “flexible extension” of Brexit until 31 October.

Speaking after more than five hours of talks in Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk said his “message to British friends” was “please do not waste this time”. 

EU leaders declared that the agreement means the UK must now hold European elections in May, or leave on 1 June without a deal.

The new agreement offers “a new autumn no deal cliff-edge to focus minds in Westminster”, The Guardian says, although there is a touch of comedy in the new “Halloween Brexit” deadline, the Daily Telegraph notes. 

The BBC’s Europe editor Katya Adler says "fudge and can-kicking” are “words that spring to mind at the end of this Brexit summit”. Sky News’ deputy political editor Beth Rigby was more damning, suggesting the agreement “feels like the final nail in Theresa May's coffin”.

Prior to the agreement, which was announced in the early hours of the morning in Brussels, the prime minister had told leaders she wanted to move the UK's exit date from this Friday to 30 June, with the option of leaving earlier. Instead, she was offered a longer postponement.

Emerging from the talks, she said: “I know that there is huge frustration from many people that I had to request this extension.

"The UK should have left the EU by now and I sincerely regret the fact that I have not yet been able to persuade Parliament to approve a deal.”

She insisted the UK could still avoid having holding European Parliament elections on 23 May if her withdrawal agreement is approved by MPs between now and then.

She said: "I do not pretend the next few weeks will be easy, or there is a simple way to break the deadlock in Parliament,” adding that she wants to “find a way to fulfil the democratic decision of the referendum, deliver Brexit and move our country forward.”

Meanwhile, European leaders have hinted that this will be the final extension they agree. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “On 31 October, the British will either have agreed to a deal, have decided to cancel Brexit or leave without a deal.”

Adding colour to the picture, Sky News says that the EU leaders had considered May’s request for a delay as they tucked into a dinner of warm scallop salad, cod loin with brown shrimps and mini mushroom arancini, followed by iced macadamia nut parfait.

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