The head of the European Council Donald Tusk urged the European Parliament on Wednesday to be open to a long Brexit extension and not to ignore the “increasing majority” of British people who wanted to remain in the European Union.
But the EU’s chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker said Britain’s intentions had become more mysterious than those of the mythological sphinxes guarding ancient tombs.
EU leaders granted Britain a short extension to the March 29 Brexit day last week, saying if Britain’s parliament did not back the divorce deal agreed with Prime Minister Theresa May this week, then the British government would have to indicate what it wished to do before April 12.
Tusk said April 12 was the “new cliff-edge date” and Britain still had a choice between a deal, no deal, a long extension or the revoking of Article 50, Britain’s notification that it plans to leave the European Union.
“You cannot betray the six million people who signed the petition to revoke Article 50, the one million people who marched for a People’s Vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union,” Tusk, who chairs summits of EU leaders, told the parliament.
In a tweet he added that the parliament should be open to a long extension if Britain wished to rethink its strategy.
Britons voted 52-48 percent to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.
British voters appeared to be changing their minds about leaving the EU, polling expert John Curtice said on Tuesday, but not to a degree that would make a different result in another referendum a safe bet.
As the British parliament began debating options, Juncker told lawmakers it was unclear how Brexit would unfold.
“I told some of you that if you compare Great Britain to a sphinx then the sphinx would seem to me an open book. We will see in the course of this week how this book will speak,” he said.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said it was time for Britain to make its choice and accept the consequences of its decision.
“This negotiation is not a trade negotiation. It’s not a matter of bargaining, not about making concessions here and there. We have never worked in this spirit. This is a process of exiting,” he said.
Belgian liberal Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said he hoped giving Britain time until mid-April would allow a majority to emerge for a softer Brexit, adding that he believed Britain would eventually return to the European Union.
The Scottish National Party’s Alyn Smith said every party in Scotland, except the Conservatives, were united in the view that “the best Brexit is no Brexit.”
But British euroskeptic Nigel Farage urged the parliament not to extend Article 50 further, saying Brexit would dominate EU business to the exclusion of other topics.
“Do you really want Britain to contest the European elections, to send back a very large number of leave MEPs just at a time when you are fighting populist as you see it across the continent? Do you really want me back in this place?” he asked.