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EU expects May to request 3-month delay to Brexit

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Mrs May has repeatedly said she wants to take the UK out of EU at the end of March, but has not ruled out a delay.

London

THE European Union (EU) expects British Prime Minister Theresa May to be forced to request a three-month delay to Brexit, two EU officials said.

Discussions between the two sides suggest May will ask for an extension to the two-year negotiating period if the British Parliament backs the Brexit deal but it isn't signed off until an EU summit on March 21-22. That is emerging as the EU's current plan.

The EU sees this as a "technical extension" to give British Parliament time to pass necessary legislation related to its departure from the bloc.

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Anything longer than three months would put the UK under pressure to take part in European elections on May 23-26, something that both sides are keen to avoid.

Mrs May is racing against the clock to change a controversial part of her deal, known as the "backstop", in a way that would be acceptable to both the UK Parliament and the EU.

However, with just five weeks to go until the UK's scheduled departure from the EU and talks at an impasse, ministers and lawmakers in her own party are threatening to vote against her next week to give Parliament control of the process.

Mrs May has repeatedly spoken out against a delay, saying she wants to take the UK out of the EU as scheduled at the end of March.

She has never completely ruled it out, however. Any postponement would have to be requested by the UK and accepted by all the remaining 27 EU governments.

EU officials say the three-month extension would happen under their most optimistic scenario. The risk remains that the UK could leave the bloc on March 29 without a deal. Alternatively, Mrs May could be forced to contemplate a longer delay if she cannot get backing for the agreement, according to one official.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond issued another veiled threat on Thursday to quit the government if the UK ends up hurtling into a no-deal Brexit, while 100 moderate lawmakers in Mrs May's Tory Party signed a letter, warning they'd vote against her to force her to delay Brexit and take no deal off the table, according to The Telegraph.

Mrs May was also reported to have been put on notice by four cabinet ministers that they're prepared to vote for a motion to effectively prevent a no-deal departure, according to The Daily Mail.

UK and EU negotiators are continuing talks in Brussels to find a legal guarantee that the backstop arrangement preventing a hard Irish border, contained in the divorce deal, would apply only temporarily.

The EU signalled on Thursday that talks between Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier did not reach a breakthrough. BLOOMBERG