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British press reacts to Theresa May's 'last chance' Brexit delay

Emmanuel Dunand, AFP | British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves a press conference on March 22, 2019, on the first day of an EU summit focused on Brexit, in Brussels.

European Union leaders on Friday gave Britain one final opportunity to avoid a no-deal Brexit. How did the British newspapers react to this postponement? Frustration was the one unifying theme.

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After a marathon session of overnight talks in Brussels, the European Union gave Prime Minister Theresa May two weeks grace to come up with an alternative Brexit plan should her deal fail next week. May had fought for a longer delay until June 30, but the 27 EU leaders were determined not to keep pushing back the Brexit deadline from its original date of March 29.

They did offer one ray of hope to the embattled British premier, by allowing for a May 22 departure date if the British parliament finally rallies behind May next week and votes through her newly amended deal. However, if parliament votes against her for the third time, April 12 will remain the new departure date – deal or no deal.

With the exception of a few tabloids who have grown weary of Brexit front pages, the British newspapers on Friday all led with this delay. Their reactions varied but they were united by a sense of wary disappointment.

The left-leaning Guardian newspaper splashed with: "May’s appeal falls flat as EU seizes control of Brexit date." The paper left readers in no doubt about where they stood on May’s last-ditch appeal to European leaders by saying: “Her appeal ‘dismally’ failed to offer any answers as to what she would do if the deal was blocked by MPs again." They said EU leaders had been provoked into taking matters into their own hands, and in effect taking control of their future.

The centre-right Telegraph newspaper went with: “EU takes control of Brexit timetable as May is sidelined.” The paper said that EU leaders “turned the screw on Theresa May last night” by refusing a three-month delay and instead setting April 12 as “decision day if her deal fails for third time”. The paper also highlighted the divisions in the prime minister’s party after she made a speech against her own ministers, and said May is now seeking “to repair rift with her MPs”.

The centrist Times newspaper called the delay May’s “one last chance”, saying she'd been handed a “three-week lifeline”. It also carried the warning issued by the EU 27 that: “If the deal is not agreed by the April deadline, however, Britain will be forced to choose between a no-deal Brexit or agreeing to hold European elections in return for a longer extension to the Article 50 process."

The Financial Times nailed its colours to the mast with its cover, which proclaimed that: “May faces ‘national emergency’ as EU haggles over Brexit guillotine.” The paper also featured two gloom-filled opinion pieces titled, “Why no deal means long-lasting calamity” and: “May is playing Russian roulette with the UK."

The right-leaning Daily Express pulled no punches with its headline: "Battle plans drawn up for no deal." The article highlighted the "emergency preparations" that it said were being drawn up for a no-deal Brexit, adding that these were being “dramatically intensified last night”.

The rightwing Daily Mail went straight for the bare facts, their front-page headline read simply "Brexit is delayed", though it described the late-night negotiations in Brussels as “fraught”.

Rightwing rival The Sun has long since wearied of daily Brexit front covers, but it did splash with: "EU feud on new deadline for Brexit." The Sun is no fan of the British prime minister. The previous day, the paper had called time on May with the headline "Final Straw – Theresa May facing intense pressure to name a date for her resignations as Tories slam her Brexit attack on Parliament."

However, its leftwing competitor The Daily Mirror sounded almost hopeful with its Brexit headline, going with "April 12: EU gives May more time…. but not much!"

The i newspaper was even more optimistic, focusing on the best-case scenario for getting the deadline pushed back to May. Its headline read "European leaders agree to delay Brexit until May – but only if MPs back the Prime Minister’s deal."

The paper did sound a note of caution, however, about the likelihood of getting the deal through parliament. It highlighted how “the Chief Whip (Julian Smith) lambasted Theresa May’s handling of the Brexit endgame. Even Smith, who is in charge of rallying MPs behind May’s plan, is nearing breaking point, telling one MP: “She just won’t listen to us."

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