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LONDON — This Brexit mess? Not my fault. It's Parliament's.
That's the message British Prime Minister Theresa May delivered Wednesday, just nine days before the country is due to leave the European Union.
In a televised address, May sought to go over the heads of members of Parliament who have twice rejected the agreement she negotiated with the E.U. and instead speak directly to the public.
"Two years on, MPs have been unable to agree on a way to implement the U.K.'s withdrawal," she said. "As a result, we will now not leave on time with a deal on 29 March."
She added, "Of this, I am absolutely sure: You, the public, have had enough."
May’s attempt to appeal to voters came after yet another day of topsy-turvy Brexit uncertainty. Unable to find agreement on what has become a messy divorce, she pleaded with Europe for a short delay to next week’s exit date in a letter sent earlier Wednesday.
European Council President Donald Tusk responded, saying that Britain would be granted a short extension of its looming Brexit deadline only if its Parliament votes in favor of May's exit deal.
Without a delay, Britain will leave the E.U. in a "no-deal Brexit." Although that has some supporters, most experts predict that it would be an unprecedented act of economic self-harm for the country.
Lawmakers voted last week to reject the notion of leaving without a deal on March 29, but unless Britain and the E.U. agree on some alternative solution, that is what will happen.
The United Kingdom has failed to reach a consensus despite having had 1,000 days to do so, after the referendum on whether to leave the bloc passed in June 2016, and Parliament still cannot agree on a way forward. Different factions each believe that their preferred way out of the chaos — from a second referendum or general election to a so-called soft Brexit and even no Brexit at all — has a chance of coming to pass.
"So far, Parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice," May said.
Wednesday's salvos from May in London and Tusk in Brussels may thus be more of an effort to present a clear choice and convince enough Parliament members to back May's deal in a third and perhaps final vote next week.
In his remarks to journalists before chairing a crunch summit meeting of E.U. leaders on Thursday and Friday, Tusk left open, but unsaid, the possibility that Europe may contemplate a longer extension if May's deal is rejected again.
"If there is such a need, I will not hesitate to invite the members of the European Council to Brussels next week," he said.
That's what politicians from the opposition Labour Party and pro-E.U. members of May's own Conservative Party had been hoping for. But a long extension would infuriate influential Brexit supporters in May’s divided party and would require Britain to participate in May elections for the European Parliament.
For her part, the British leader rejected the idea of a lengthy extension in front of a particularly animated House of Commons earlier Wednesday.
"As prime minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than June 30,” she said — seen by some as a hint she might resign if Britain is ultimately forced to accept a longer delay.
May acknowledged Wednesday that she has staked her tumultuous leadership on the promise of delivering on the result of the 2016 referendum. Entering perhaps her defining week as prime minister, she has yet to show that she can deliver on that promise.