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EU Official Tusk Calls on May to Delay Brexit

European Union Council President Donald Tusk, right, speaks with British Prime Minister Theresa May during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a summit of EU and Arab leaders at the Sharm El Sheikh convention center in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, Feb. 24,

European Union official Donald Tusk added pressure on British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday to delay the country's departure from the bloc, saying it would be a “rational solution.”

Tusk said that “all the 27 (member states) will show maximum understanding and goodwill” to make such a postponement possible after two days of talks between May and several European leaders at the EU-Arab League summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh failed to produce a breakthrough in the negotiations.

May met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker early Monday as she sought elusive changes to the U.K.-EU divorce agreement.

Britain's Parliament has rejected the deal once, and May has just over a month to get it approved by lawmakers before the U.K.'s scheduled departure day of March 29.

May says a new vote won't be held this week and could come as late as March 12.

Tusk, the European Council president, said that such a timeframe might get too tight to avoid a chaotic and costly cliff-edge departure.

“I believe that in the situation we are in, an extension would be a rational solution,” Tusk told reporters.

At the moment though, and after his talks with her on Sunday, Tusk said that “Prime Minister May still believes that she is able to avoid this scenario” of extending the departure beyond March 29.

Tusk refused to say how long such an extension should be as rumors swirled it should go to anything from two months to almost two years.

U.K. lawmakers' objections to the Brexit deal center on a provision for the border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU to remove the need for checks along the Irish border until a permanent new trading relationship is in place.

May wants to change the deal to reassure British lawmakers that the backstop would only apply temporarily.

But EU leaders insist that the legally Brexit binding withdrawal agreement, which took a year and a half to negotiate, can't be reopened.

A group of British lawmakers will try this week to force the government to delay Brexit rather than see the country crash out of the bloc without a deal. They want Parliament to vote Wednesday to extend the negotiating process.

Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper, one of those behind the move, said it was irresponsible of the government that just a few weeks before Brexit “we still don't know what kind of Brexit we are going to have and we're not even going to have a vote on it until two weeks before that final deadline.”

“I don't see how businesses can plan, I don't see how public services can plan and I think it's just deeply damaging,” Cooper told the BBC.