BRUSSELS -- France softened its stance Tuesday and showed willingness to accept yet another delay in Britain's long-awaited withdrawal from the European Union, diminishing the chances that Britain would crash out of the bloc this week without any plan.
But British Prime Minister Theresa May still has a rough day ahead of her as she heads to an emergency summit in Brussels today to plead for a new extension -- for the second time in three weeks.
With nearly everyone fully resigned to Britain's departure from the European Union, two questions took center stage Tuesday: How and when to get the U.K. out the door.
EU countries, especially France, have become increasingly exasperated with the political division and uncertainty in Britain about a way forward.
The bloc's leaders have tried to help May over the past two years of negotiations, even after she missed her departure date on March 29 because of parliamentary opposition. After obtaining a delay until Friday, she will be asking for another postponement that lasts until June 30 at the special EU summit.
May flew first to Berlin on Tuesday to plead for good terms with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and then set off for Paris for an encounter with President Emmanuel Macron, seen as her counterpart with the toughest demands.
"France is really trying to play bad cop here," said Larissa Brunner, an analyst at the European Policy Center, referring to French insistence that another extension to her deadline must come with strings attached and assurances from London.
However, an official in Macron's office said on Tuesday that France was ready to accept a new delay.
While Macron still has a long list of conditions, it was a notable shift in France's tone compared with last week. The reason for the change was unclear, though concerns have been growing about how badly a hard exit would hit the French economy, too. France was also encouraged by May's outreach last week to Britain's political opposition to find a compromise, and Macron may have been swayed in part by a meeting with the Irish prime minister.
France is now at the forefront to get the EU to take some decisive action.
"We won't be able to perpetually live with the exit of Brexit," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said over the weekend. "At some point there is an exit."
Germany agrees. "There isn't an endless readiness to keep talking about delays so long as there is no substantial progress on the British side," said Michael Roth, Germany's deputy foreign minister.
All eyes are now turned toward Macron, who has it in his power to force Britain to choose between a no-deal exit Friday and canceling its departure altogether. A drastic cliff-edge departure would have big costs for businesses and trade across the English Channel and would be very cumbersome to travelers because it would hit airports, ports, tariff rules and standard regulations overnight.
Among conditions France is now setting to agree to a new delay: A "credible prospect" of some kind of solution to the British political deadlock. A promise that Britain won't keep asking for more delays. And guarantees that Britain would not be involved in future EU decisions while its withdrawal is playing out.
"The longer the extension might be, the more guarantees are needed," the French official said, speaking on condition that he not be named in keeping with presidential policy.
Every British initiative to get a deal has floundered so far. Several days of talks between May's Conservative government and the main opposition Labor Party tried to find a compromise deal have failed to produce a breakthrough. Labor favors a softer exit than the government has proposed and wants to retain a close economic relationship with the bloc.
After further talks Tuesday over an informal lunch, the two sides said they would resume their discussions after today's EU summit.
May's Downing Street office said the talks had been "productive and wide-ranging." Labor business spokesman Rebecca Long-Bailey said there had not been "any fundamental shift ... but we're hopeful that progress will be made."
Information for this article was contributed by Geir Moulson, Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless of The Associated Press.
A Section on 04/10/2019
Print Headline: France bends a bit in letting U.K. get another Brexit delay