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EU leaders set to decide on Brexit delay

Key Points
  • Several EU leaders arriving in Brussels Wednesday said that they would prefer a short delay, but the most important issue was to avoid an abrupt break-up between both sides of the English Channel.
  • Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, told CNBC that the conditions behind a second delay will depend on what May tells her 27 counterparts. 
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - APRIL 10: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives ahead of a European Council meeting on Brexit at The Europa Building, The European Parliament on April 10, 2019 in Brussels, Belgium. Theresa May formally presents her case to the European Union for a short delay to Brexit until 30 June 2019. The other EU leaders will then then discuss how to respond at a dinner without her. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)
Thierry Monasse | Getty Images News | Getty Images

EU leaders are gathered in Brussels to decide whether to grant the U.K. another extension to its departure from the bloc, currently due to take place on Friday.

According to a draft document seen by CNBC, British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to get a second delay to the U.K.'s departure from the EU. However, it's uncertain at this stage how long this extension will last and which conditions will be imposed.

Several EU leaders arriving in Brussels Wednesday said that they would prefer a short delay, but the most important issue was to avoid an abrupt break-up between both sides of the English Channel.

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, told CNBC that the conditions behind a second delay will depend on what May tells her 27 counterparts. "What's your (U.K.) plan?... How can we ensure that the U.K. will be a loyal partner?" he asked.

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EU leaders expected to grant Theresa May fresh Brexit extension

The U.K. was meant to leave the Union on March 29, but May decided to request an extension a week prior to that given that she did not get enough backing for the deal that she negotiated on with the rest of the EU. At a summit in late March, the 27 EU leaders agreed to give an extension until April 12 or May 22, depending on whether May found the approval needed for her agreement.

There are growing concerns that if the U.K. is allowed to remain in the club for longer, it will interfere with critical European decisions, including on the next European budget. There's also frustration in European circles on the lengthy process of Britain leaving the EU.

"I hope we are not going to have a meeting every week about Brexit," Xavier Bettel, the Luxembourg prime minister, told CNBC Wednesday.

If European leaders do not approve an extension Wednesday night, the U.K. will leave the EU without a deal, bringing huge uncertainty to businesses and citizens. However, even in the case of a second delay, this possibility cannot be ruled out at a later stage.

"We never can exclude anything here," Bettel said, when asked about a no-deal Brexit.

How long?

There are two schools of thought, one that suggests a short extension would be better to keep the pressure high on U.K. lawmakers to approve May's deal. Other countries believe that a long extension would be better to give enough time to London to choose what it wants for its future.

European Council President Donald Tusk repeated on Tuesday that the leaders should consider a one-year-long delay.

"I believe we should also discuss an alternative, longer extension. One possibility would be a flexible extension, which would last only as long as necessary and no longer than one year," Tusk said in his letter to the European heads of state.

He called for a longer delay to avoid "the risk of a rolling series of short extensions and emergency summits, creating new cliff-edge dates."

Conditions that the U.K. could have to abide by, Tusk noted, would include no re-opening of negotiations over the withdrawal agreement (the Brexit deal) on offer. The U.K. could leave earlier than a newly agreed departure date if a deal is in place and Tusk reiterated that the U.K. could revoke Article 50 (the departure process) at any time.

-- CNBC's Holly Ellyatt contributed to this report.