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European Council president Donald Tusk says the EU should consider offering the UK a “flexible” delay to Brexit of up to a year, with the option of leaving earlier if a deal is ratified.
He said there was “little reason to believe” a Brexit deal would be approved by the extension deadline UK PM Theresa May has requested – 30 June.
Writing to EU leaders, he said any delay should have conditions attached.
It is up to EU members to vote on the proposals at a summit on Wednesday.
A draft EU document circulated to diplomats ahead of the emergency summit also proposes an extension but leaves the date of the proposed new deadline blank.
The BBC’s Brussels correspondent Adam Fleming said the document referred to an extension lasting “only as long as is necessary and, in any event, no longer than XX.XX.XXXX and ending earlier if the withdrawal agreement is ratified”.
The UK is currently due to leave the EU at 23:00 BST on Friday.
So far, UK MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement Mrs May reached with other European leaders last year, so she is now asking for the leaving date to be extended.
Meanwhile, Mrs May has been meeting French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin for talks ahead of the summit.
Afterwards, Ms Merkel said a delay that ran until the end of this year or the start of 2020 was a possibility.
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Mr Tusk said granting the 30 June extension that Mrs May is seeking “would increase the risk of a rolling series of short extensions and emergency summits, creating new cliff-edge dates”.
And if the European Council did not agree on an extension at all, “there would be a risk of an accidental no-deal Brexit”, he said.
“One possibility would be a flexible extension, which would last only as long as necessary and no longer than one year, as beyond that date we will need to decide unanimously on some key European projects.”
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Media captionThere was no-one to greet the PM as she arrived to meet the German chancellor for Brexit talks in Berlin
Mr Tusk said the EU would need to agree on a number of conditions to be attached to any proposed extension, including that there would be no re-opening of negotiations on the withdrawal agreement.
He said the UK should be treated “with the highest respect”