Latest: ‘Short’ Brexit delay possible as long as MPs vote for May’s deal, says Tusk

Latest: A “short” delay to Brexit will be possible provided Parliament votes for Theresa May’s deal, European Council president Donald Tusk has said.

Mr Tusk said he had spoken to the British Prime Minister after receiving her formal request for an extension of the Article 50 withdrawal process to the end of June.

Mrs May made the request in a letter to Mr Tusk exactly 1,000 days after the 2016 referendum which delivered a 52%-48% majority to quit the EU.

The former Polish prime minister told a press conference in Brussels: “In the light of the consultations that I have conducted over the past days, I believe that a short extension would be possible.

“But it would be conditional on a positive vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons.

“The question remains open as to the duration of such an extension.”

- Press Association

June 30 Brexit delay will not be accepted, insists European Commission

Update 3pm: The European Commission has written to all EU members to insist Theresa May's June 30 Brexit delay will not be accepted, writes Fiachra O Cionnaith.

In a lengthy statement laced with thinly veiled criticism of Ms May's Brexit tactics, the Commission said the only delay options available are May 23 or December 2019.

Just an hour after Ms May's House of Commons speech confirming her three-month extension request, the Commission said its president Jean Claude Juncker specifically told her last week any short delay past May 23 would be rejected as it would interfere with the MEP elections.

Taking a clear position before the EU summit on Thursday and Friday, it said any decision must be "binary" and that a "single extension" is needed.

And, in a pointed reference to Ms May's constant switching of plans, it added a change in position from Britain cannot be ruled out as it is "a phenomenon with which we have become familiar over the past few months".

Theresa May requests three-month Brexit delay

1.15pm: Theresa May told Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons that she has written to Donald Tusk to request an extension to the Article 50 Brexit negotiations to June 30.

The British Prime Minister has said that she is "not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June".

Mrs May said: “The idea that three years after voting to leave the EU, the people of this country should be asked to elect a new set of MEPs is, I believe, unacceptable.

“It would be a failure to deliver on the referendum decision this House said it would deliver.

“I have therefore this morning written to President Tusk… informing him that the UK seeks an extension to the Article 50 period until June 30.”

Mrs May will formally make her request to the European Council summit in Brussels on Thursday, where the unanimous approval of all 27 remaining member states is required for any extension.

Writing to Donald Tusk, Mrs May said that she still intends to bring her deal back to the House following John Bercow's statement on Monday which said that a further meaningful vote would have to be "fundamentally different - not different in terms of wording, but different in terms of substance".

Mrs May wrote that she intends "to put forward a motion as soon as possible under section 13 of the Withdrawal Act 2018 and make the argument for the orderly withdrawal and strong future partnership the UK economy, its citizens' security and the continent's future, demands.

If the motion is passed, I am confident that Parliament will proceed to ratify the deal constructively. But this will clearly not be completed before 29 March 2019.

She said she is also intending to bring forward domestic proposals to confirm previous commitments to protect the UK’s internal market, in response to concerns that the controversial backstop might drive a wedge between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Jeremy Corbyn said the UK is “now in the midst of a full-scale national crisis” and called on Theresa May to meet with him to discuss his Brexit proposals.

At Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons the UK Labour leader said “incompetence, failure and intransigence from the Prime Minister and her Government have brought us to this point”.

He said with her deal and no-deal both rejected, Mrs May has “no plan”, while he is meeting with other parties and EU leaders to come up with an alternative.

Mr Corbyn asked: “This is a national crisis. Will the Prime Minister meet me today to discuss our proposals as a way forward to get out of this crisis?”

Mrs May said it was a “bit rich” for him to invite her for talks when he for “days and days he refused to meet me”.

She added that she was “always happy to meet members from across this House to discuss Europe”.

Tory Brexiteer Peter Bone warned Theresa May she will be “betraying” the public if she continues to seek to delay Brexit.

“If you continue to apply for an extension to Article 50 you will be betraying the British people. If you don’t, you will be honouring their instruction,” he told her during PMQs.

“Prime Minister, it is entirely down to you. History will judge you at this moment. Prime Minister, which is it to be?”

Mrs May replied: “I am saying that I think we should look again at being able to leave with a negotiated deal but in order to do that we need time for this Parliament to ratify a deal, and in order to do that we need an extension until June 30.”

A European Commission spokesman told the daily press conference in Brussels that President Juncker had just received a phone call from Theresa May about Article 50.

He said: “She informed him of the latest state of play around the Article 50 process and consulted the president on how best to approach the European Council. Discussions are ongoing.”

The spokesman added “nearly all foreseen contingency measures are approved” for a no-deal scenario, with only two outstanding, which are short-term visas and the EU budget for 2019.

EU hoping for 'clarity' from Theresa May's Brexit delay letter, says Jean-Claude Juncker

Update 9am: European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he had not yet received Mrs May's letter, but was hoping for "clarity" from the UK on the way forward.

He suggested that agreement on an extension to Article 50 might not be reached at this week's European Council summit, and that EU leaders might have to meet again next week to finalise it.

Speaking to the German radio station DRF, Mr Juncker said: "We will probably have to meet again next week, because Mrs May has not got agreement for anything either in her Cabinet or her Parliament.

Jean-Claude Juncker
Jean-Claude Juncker

"As long as we don't know what Great Britain will say Yes to, we can't come to a resolution."

Mr Juncker said that the EU had already moved a long way to accommodate the UK's demands, but insisted there would be "no more negotiations".

"I am ready for any movement, but we have already moved intensively towards Britain," he said, adding: "There isn't any more."

Asked about indications from Downing Street that Mrs May will request a short extension of only a few months, Mr Juncker told DRF: "Those months would have to produce, as an end result, an agreement from the British Parliament to the (Agreement) text which is before them.

"If that doesn't happen, and if Great Britain does not leave at the end of March, then we are, I am sorry to say, in the hands of God. And I think even God sometimes reaches a limit to his patience."

Asked if the EU would then rule out any further compromise, Mr Juncker said: "We are not in a state of war with the UK, but a state of negotiation. But the negotiations are finished."

Earlier: Downing St confirms Theresa May will ask for short Brexit delay

Mairead McGuinness MEP, vice-president of the European Parliament, said she expected the EU will be willing to grant a Brexit extension if the purpose is clear, but warned there are concerns over continued uncertainty from a "rolling cliff-edge".

"We're still waiting to see what the letter from the Prime Minister will contain... the speculation is for a short extension," she told BBC Breakfast.

"Michel Barnier yesterday was quite clear in that, of course, everything will be considered, but in a sense we need to understand what this time period will be used for and what the outcome would be.

Mairead McGuinness.
Mairead McGuinness.

"I think that if that is clarified I think there should be a willingness to grant an extension. But I think there will be a lot of discussion about it, just as there has been in the European Parliament yesterday, because people are concerned about a rolling cliff-edge."

Confirming a short extension will be requested, a Number 10 source said: "PM won't be asking for a long extension.

"There is a case for giving Parliament a bit more time to agree a way forward, but the people of this country have been waiting nearly three years now.

"They are fed up with Parliament's failure to take a decision and the PM shares their frustration."

Earlier: Theresa May to ask European Union to delay Brexit 1,000 days after referendum

Theresa May will write to the European Union today to ask for a delay to Brexit beyond the scheduled date of March 29.

In a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk, the British Prime Minister is thought likely to suggest a three-month extension to June 30 in the hope of securing parliamentary approval for her Withdrawal Agreement by that time.

But with Downing Street refusing to reveal details, there was also speculation that she could ask for a longer delay of nine months or a year, with the option of an early break if a deal is done before May’s European elections.

The development comes exactly 1,000 days after the referendum of June 23, 2016, which delivered a 52%-48% majority for leaving the EU.

This used to be the Cabinet that would deliver Brexit and now, from what I'm hearing, it's not

It will dismay hardline Leavers still hoping for a no-deal “clean Brexit” next Friday.

In a fractious Cabinet discussion of the planned letter on Tuesday, Leave-backing Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom is understood to have said: “This used to be the Cabinet that would deliver Brexit and now, from what I’m hearing, it’s not.”

And US President Donald Trump’s son said Mrs May should “honour” her promise to take Britain out of the EU next Friday.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Donald Trump Jr accused Mrs May of ignoring his father’s advice and claimed that “elites control London from Brussels” and “democracy in the UK is all but dead”.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Tuesday warned that Brussels will want a good reason to grant a long delay to Brexit.

In an apparent reference to options like a second referendum, general election or cross-party consensus, he said that a lengthy extension “needs to be linked to something new … a new event or a new political process”.

Michel Barnier said European leaders would need to be sure that a delay to Brexit would be “useful” (AP Photo/Francisco Seco/PA Images)">
Michel Barnier said European leaders would need to be sure that a delay to Brexit would be “useful” (AP Photo/Francisco Seco/PA Images)

Any request for extra time is subject to unanimous approval by leaders of the remaining 27 EU states at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

And senior MEP Sophie in’t Veld, deputy to European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt, warned that any extension will come with “conditions attached”.

Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, Mr Barnier said: “It is our duty to ask whether this extension would be useful because an extension will be something which would extend uncertainty and uncertainty costs.”

Tánaiste Simon Coveney told reporters: “If there is going to be a request for a long extension of Article 50 by the UK then there will need to be a very persuasive plan to go with that to explain why that’s needed and how they will use the time to conclude the outstanding issues that haven’t been able to be agreed in London in the context of the Brexit process.”

If the EU agrees an extension, MPs and peers will have to pass a statutory instrument within days to remove the date of March 29 from Brexit legislation.

MPs will be given an opportunity in the House of Commons on Monday to debate how the process should go forward.

And Mrs May is expected to seek a way of staging a third “meaningful vote” on her Withdrawal Agreement next week, despite Speaker John Bercow’s ruling that it must be substantially changed before being put before MPs again.

Downing Street sources dismissed reports that the vote, known in Westminster as MV3, is slated to take place on the eve of Brexit on March 28, insisting that no date has been decided.

Talks are expected to continue with the DUP ahead of any vote in the hope of overturning its defeat by a margin of 149 last week.

But it is understood that the British Government is still far from any agreement with the DUP that would allow its 10 MPs to back the PM’s deal.

Jeremy Corbyn indicated that he sees Monday as the point for Labour to mount a challenge to the Government’s approach.

Speaking after talks with other opposition parties and Labour backbenchers on the way forward, Mr Corbyn said: “If the Government can’t get a majority for its way on Monday, then I think that’s the time to challenge this Government.

“The reality is that this Government has lost its authority, doesn’t enjoy the confidence of the House, can’t get anything through.

“Surely that is the time to step aside and let the people decide in a people’s vote that’s called a general election.”

He added: “I hope that on Monday the House will come together and support some sensible alternatives that can be negotiated during an extension period with the EU.”

- Press Association

Most Read in World