IT’S a gaping void that sucks in energy with an irresistible force.
This first-ever image of a black hole was yesterday unveiled in Brussels — where the tortuous negotiations over Brexit were threatening to prove just as difficult to escape from.
EU leaders late last night agreed to put off Britain’s departure to Halloween — October 31 — with a review in June as the Westminster stalemate continues. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel was believed to be among those EU representatives pushing for an extension of up to a year to allow more time for a breakthrough.
But French president Emmanuel Macron, who fears Brexit is slowing EU progress on other issues, was said to favour the June departure that Theresa May has asked for.
The prime minister, who wants Britain to leave no later than June 30, gave her counterparts from the other EU countries an hour-long briefing on progress.
But she then had to leave the room while they decided the UK’s fate over dinner. They had it in their power to refuse a delay — forcing her to choose between a no-deal Brexit tomorrow or revoking Article 50 to halt the process of leaving.
Mr Macron, the last of the leaders to speak in the first of several round-table debates at the summit, reportedly made clear that he was ‘in favour of a short extension and only a short one’.
The passionate Europhile, who met Mrs May in Paris on Tuesday, said before the summit he was ‘impatient’ to hear her presentation.
He said: ‘We must understand today why this request, what is the political project which justifies it and what are the clear proposals? It is 34 months since the British referendum, and the key for us is that we are able to pursue the European project in a coherent way. I believe deeply that we are carrying out a European rebirth and I don’t want the subject of Brexit to get in the way of that.’
Introducing Mrs May’s speech, Irish PM Leo Varadkar said: ‘The key thing we will want to know from her is what the plan is and what the prospects are. Until we’ve heard what she has to say, it’s hard to make that judgment.’
Mr Macron’s apparent preference for a swift Brexit came after a source close to him previously suggested he might insist on a delay until December to halt the endless round of emergency summits.
But Mrs Merkel backed the idea of a long ‘flextension’ that would allow Mrs May to cut short the postponement once MPs had reached a decision. She said before the summit: ‘We will shape this extension in such a way that, whenever Britain has approved the withdrawal agreement, Britain can then complete its orderly withdrawal very shortly after.’
The chancellor laughed with the PM as they compared photos of them addressing their parliaments earlier in the day wearing blue jackets of the same shade, as they were again last night.
European Council president Donald Tusk and Luxembourg’s prime minister Donald Tusk also joined in the hilarity as they took a look at the side-by-side images on an iPad.
On her arrival in Brussels, Mrs May gave a statement to reporters blaming parliament for the Brexit hold-up.
She insisted she remained intent on leaving the EU after MPs rejected her withdrawal deal three times – amid speculation that she could back holding a confirmatory referendum.
She said: ‘The purpose of this summit is to agree an extension to June 30, but what is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point at which we ratify a withdrawal agreement – so we could leave on May 22 and start to build a brighter future.’
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier insisted a delay must ‘be useful and serve a purpose’.
Earlier, the president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite, said the EU leaders were likely to insist on a long extension.
Yet she also declared: ‘It is only up to the UK to decide – your country’s future is only in your hands, nobody else.’
The dinner Mrs May missed out on as the leaders made up their minds included a starter of warm scallop salad and a main course of loin of cod with brown shrimp and mini mushroom arancini. Dessert was iced macadamia nut parfait.