The UK is currently due to leave on March 29, but the British parliament has twice rejected May’s divorce deal with the EU, prompting concerns that the UK could exit the bloc without a deal.
On Monday, Speaker of the House John Bercow made a surprise decision to not allow a third “meaningful vote” on May’s Brexit plan, forcing the prime minister to seek an extension to allow time to revamp the deal.
Addressing MPs on Wednesday, May said she does not want a long extension that would potentially involve the UK taking part in elections to the European Parliament in late May, as doing so would fail to honour the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum.
In her letter to Tusk, May said she would seek to delay the UK’s departure until June 30. Last week, British MPs voted in favour of a short extension to the deadline.
May wrote that she remained confident that British MPs would ratify the Brexit deal she negotiated with the bloc.
“But this clearly will not be completed before March 29,” she added.
May blamed Bercow and parliament for failing to agree on a deal, saying parliament had “indulged itself enough” on Brexit.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from outside the UK parliament in Westminster, London said May’s decision to seek a shorter delay also followed “heavy pressure” from pro-Brexit MPs in her party.
“If she’d gone to the EU and asked for a long extension as indeed she’d said she was going to, she faced multiple resignations from her own cabinet,” Hull said.
Wednesday’s announcement caused the pound to fall, losing nearly one percent of its value on the day following May’s announcement.
Mixed reaction in Europe
May is due to head to Brussels on Thursday for a two-day EU summit, where she will attempt to secure the delay.
On Wednesday, the European Commission warned in an internal briefing note that delaying Brexit to June 30 would bring “serious legal and political risks”.
Speaking earlier on Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stressed the difficulty of the EU making further concessions without a guarantee of UK parliamentary approval.
“As long as we don’t know what Britain could say yes to, no decision can be taken on our side either,” he told German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.
“There will be no renegotiations, no new negotiations, no additional guarantees in addition to those already given. We have intensively moved towards Britain, there can be no more,” Juncker said.
French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said May needs to provide clear reasons for any delay to Brexit, which cannot be automatically guaranteed.
“France’s position is simple: the British prime minister must explain to us for how long and what for, and offer us guarantees,” Griveaux told reporters.
However Spain’s Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, told Reuters news agency shortly before May’s announcement that Madrid was “ready to give more time” to the UK, saying it’s possible that a deadline could be granted next week.
“You know in Europe we always get a solution at the last minute,” Borrell said. “Maybe tomorrow is not going to be enough and we have to jump over … to just before the deadline”.
All 27 EU member states – excluding the UK – must agree on the length of any extension offered.
Al Jazeera and news agencies