Would the EU abandon Varadkar? Perhaps. But it’s not at all likely.

The divisions and impatience exposed could well be real, but it doesn’t follow that Brussels is about to suddenly shift its policy.

Throughout Brexit, there have been two apparently fixed points on the EU side of the negotiations. The first was their remarkable cohesion, in the face of a deeply divided British political class, and the second was their solidarity with Dublin.

As this Government’s efforts to negotiate Brexit reach their apparent nadir, it is worth paying attention to the other side of the table and noting that something appears to have shifted this week, at least with regards to the former point.

The apparent willingness of certain EU leaders to go for ‘no deal’, rather than endlessly indulging Parliament with a series of extensions in which it can continue to vote down the Withdrawal Agreement, seems to contradict the Union’s policy of catering to the particular needs of the Republic of Ireland.

Whilst the EU is perfectly willing to roll out the high-minded rhetoric about the vital importance of an invisible border whilst attempting to persuade the UK to adopt the backstop, it seems improbable that they would content to allow unregulated goods to flood into the Single Market through Northern Ireland in the event of no-deal.

On top of the serious economic consequences, this is one of the reasons that Leo Varadkar’s government has good reason to be deeply worried by the prospect – hence our Editor floating the ‘Varadkar Test‘ as a gauge of Theresa May’s real willingness to pursue such a course.

By apparently hardening their attitude towards one, then, leaders such as Emmanuel Macron seem on the surface to be abandoning their commitments to Dublin’s interests. Which is a very good reason to think it might be a bluff, of course, but if it is a bluff it has been deeply unhelpful for a Prime Minister who needed Brexiteer MPs to think that a no-deal exit had been taken off the table to win them round to her Withdrawal Agreement.

Could it be the case that they are simply running out of patience with the whole process, and losing their cohesion as a result?

The fact that Angela Merkel appears to have had to rebuke both Macron and Donald Tusk, and emphasise in strong terms that a no-deal Brexit must be avoided, certainly suggests so. And there is no doubt that there is genuine concern about whether or not the UK takes part in the next European elections, a decision which must be made soon and which could impose tight legal limits on any deferment.

But it is a long way from there to thinking that Brussels really will abandon its previous priorities, especially against the wishes of the German Chancellor, and facilitate no deal. It still seems more likely that, for now at least, EU leaders will if pressed swallow their frustrations and grant a long extension – almost certainly with strings attached – if the British Government seeks one.

If that is the case, this rare crack in the united front could possibly not have come at a worse moment for May. Just when some of them felt she had the ‘gun to their heads‘, Macron has muddied the waters.

WATCH: Stewart says that Parliament should not be whipped in any indicative votes

The prisons minister decides to “be bold” and says that, if it comes to it, MPs should be free to express their genuine preferences on what’s next for Brexit.

Henry Newman: Conservative MPs should beware handing Labour the victory on Brexit

If they reject the Withdrawal Agreement a third time, a deeply divided Opposition could yet get the credit for a soft departure.

Henry Newman is Director of Open Europe.

Everyone is so used to knocking Theresa May and the Government that we sometimes forget the Labour party have any agency at all in the ongoing Brexit dramas.

When I mentioned in a recent BBC interview, that Labour MPs, as well as Conservatives, had some responsibility for making decisions on Brexit, the presenter looked at me with disbelief. Yet Labour voted for a referendum in 2015, promised to respect the result in 2016, whipped MPs to trigger Article 50 in March 2017, and then pledged to deliver Brexit in the June 2017 General Election.

At one level, Labour’s Brexit strategy has been remarkably effective. They have an impossible split within their own party. Their electoral logic requires them both to win Leave-voting seats, and also hold Remain seats, while managing an activist base and parliamentary party which is very Remain.

They have bridged this divide through ambiguity. In 2017’s General Election they managed to promise all things to many people, and their vote share went up as a result. It’s possible that the emergence of The Independent Group will challenge this over the next few months, particularly if we head towards a new election, but it’s too soon to tell.

Is this all part of Labour’s cunning plan? Some observers are sceptical about how deliberate their policy decisions have been. The profound tensions in the Brexit beliefs between, say, Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn, is also a crucial factor. The Shadow Brexit Secretary has been nudging the party towards ever softer positions – first a customs union, then a second referendum, perhaps the single market (or Common Market 2.0) next.

But will the Labour party actually carry through on any of these promises? The Leader of the Opposition’s team and Len McCluskey, a key union figure, are extremely critical of the possibility of a second referendum.

Corbyn noticeably ‘forgot’ to mention a second referendum at all during his Point of Order on Tuesday 12 March, after the second meaningful vote defeat. It’s also been left out of other key communications, despite the party suggesting that their policy had switched totally to backing a referendum. Corbyn still prefers calling for a General Election. Sometimes he elides the two calling for a “People’s Vote” through an election, insisting of course that all options are on the table.

Overall, it’s often seemed that the Labour party leadership are just MIA. Some of the biggest ‘moments’ in Brexit have come from debates or rows within the Conservative Party, exacerbating the impression that this is all just a Tory issue. Equally, it has sometimes been Labour backbenchers, such as Yvette Cooper or Hilary Benn, who have seemed to do more to shape the process than many in the shadow cabinet.

If you apply almost any scrutiny to Labour’s position on Brexit, it rapidly disintegrates. They seem to have abandoned their absurd test that any Brexit deal had to deliver the “exact same benefits” as membership. That was rightly described by the Shadow Trade Secretary as “bollocks”. But their current position is hardly more coherent:

  • Labour say “we are not supporting Theresa May’s deal at all”, but admit that they have no issue with any part of the legally-binding deal – the Withdrawal Agreement;

 

  • Labour complain of a “blindfold Brexit” when it was the EU, not the UK, that insisted our future relationship couldn’t be negotiated during Article 50;

 

  • Labour call for the Prime Minister to relax her “red lines”, when this would make no difference at all to the divorce deal which MPs are actually voting on;

 

  • Labour demand a second referendum but whipped their MPs to abstain on the question just last week;

 

  • Labour insist that the question of a second referendum must include “credible” remain and leave choices, but Jeremy Corbyn refuses to say which way he would vote in one because it “depends what the choice is”;

 

  • Labour call for cross-party talks and “reaching out” to find a consensus but Jeremy Corbyn stormed out of a meeting on Wednesday because Chuka Umunna of The Independent Group was present;

 

  • Labour call for a “customs union, market access and protection of rights”, but all of those things are provided for in the current deal via the backstop, and possible under the current Political Declaration;

 

  • Labour demand a customs union with a “say” over trade policy, but the EU has ruled this out for now and this would anyway form part of negotiations that cannot begin until after we have left;

 

  • Labour don’t want harmonisation on state aid or competition rules, but the EU would surely make these a requirement of any customs union;

 

  • Labour demand “dynamic alignment” on employment and environmental rules but then admit that they could match or exceed future EU standards “in any event”.

 

  • Labour call for a general election, but can’t say what their Brexit policy would be if one was called.

It’s quite clear that Labour’s plan involves being seen to neither aid nor obstruct Brexit. Other than promising a “job’s first Brexit” or “Labour’s Brexit deal” there’s painfully little detail. While Starmer is clearly knowledgeable, Corbyn can seem confused, muddling the Single Market and the Customs Union, as he showed in his interview with Sophy Ridge last Sunday.

The one clear policy shared by virtually all the Labour party is a profound opposition to No Deal. On almost everything else there’s a fair bit of confusion. Some Labour MPs desperately want to reverse the 2016 referendum result and are passionate “People’s Vote” advocates.

But there are many others who genuinely oppose a second referendum while seeking a softer Brexit. This group ought to find a way to support the current Brexit deal. The divorce deal leaves open for the future all possible relationships with the EU from something as distant as Canada’s to a deal closer than Norway’s. The only proviso is that both sides must find a solution to the Irish border question.

Ultimately a danger for the Conservatives could come if Labour came together around a slightly softer version of May’s deal (say the deal with a customs union amended on top). If that then passes the Commons with Labour support, and resolves the Brexit impasse, the public just might get the impression that Labour – despite all its divisions, inconsistencies and problems – is willing to act in the national interest to avert a crisis.

They might therefore conclude that however much they may distrust Corbyn and however divided Labour might be, the Conservatives offer no better answers. That should cause Tory MPs to reflect very carefully before rejecting the Prime Minister’s deal for a third time.

EU drops ‘neighborly cooperation’ hint to departing UK

Iceland’s prime minister says ‘we would be happy to talk’ with the UK.

After yesterday’s lengthy Brexit talks, European leaders dropped some not-so-subtle hints in London’s direction that sticking close to the EU club — even if not actually within in — comes with perks.

The European Council on Friday began its second summit day with a celebration of European cooperation, marking the 25th anniversary of the European Economic Area — the group of countries that includes all the EU members plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland.

It came on the morning after EU leaders granted a short extension to Brexit day, throwing a lifeline to MPs in the House of Commons who want to steer the government towards a closer post-Brexit relationship with the EU.

Speaking about the EEA’s achievements, Council President Donald Tusk lauded “the spirit of neighborly cooperation”.

“We should never take this for granted,” he told the Council and the leaders of Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, who had also travelled to Brussels to mark the anniversary.

“Even though some of us are outside the European Union, we do have a great cooperation” — Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg

“In a world of resurgent nationalism and authoritarianism… you have stood firmly on the side of wisdom, the rule of law, cooperation, and deeper integration among our nations,” he added.

Martin Selmayr, secretary-general of the Commission, called the EEA “a well tested, successful model for close economic integration.”

Arriving at the Council, the guest leaders also offered some words of advice for Britain.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg noted that cooperation with the EU and being a non-member were not mutually exclusive.

“Even though some of us are outside the European Union, we do have a great cooperation,” she told reporters.

Iceland PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir | Halldor Kolbeins/AFP via Getty Images

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stressed that working together with the bloc had been “very beneficial” and said the U.K. ought to think about “how to proceed” in terms of cooperating with Europe.

“We have valued the importance of European cooperation very much, even though we stand outside the EU,” she said. “That’s something the U.K. must think about — what the values of European cooperation are.”

Asked if she would welcome the U.K. into European Free Trade Association — made up of the three countries plus Switzerland — Jakobsdóttir noted that the four EFTA states had to abide by the four freedoms, including freedom of movement, which Theresa May has pledged to end.

But Jakobsdóttir added: “We would be happy to talk about that if that’s something the U.K. wants to talk about.”


Read this next: How the EPP lost its way

Theresa May says she blamed MPs out of ‘frustration’

Prime minister acknowledges MPs ‘have difficult jobs to do.’

Theresa May sought to limit the damage caused by her controversial Downing Street statement blaming MPs for the Brexit impasse, admitting that she had been venting “frustration.”

Speaking at a midnight press conference in Brussels after agreeing an extension to the Brexit deadline with the EU27, the U.K. prime minister appeared to express a degree of contrition for the statement in which she said she shared public impatience with “political games” in Westminster.

“I know MPs on all sides of the debate have passionate views, and I respect those different positions,” she said. “Last night I expressed my frustration. I know that MPs are frustrated too. They have difficult jobs to do.”

A number of MPs condemned the statement, which they said risked heightening anger with MPs and exacerbating a febrile political atmosphere in the U.K.

May said she would return to London on Friday to continue attempting to persuade MPs to back her deal in a vote next week.

At the summit, the EU27 rejected her suggestion of an extension until June 30 if the deal passes, instead shortening the timetable to May 22. If the deal falls — currently the more likely scenario — the U.K. will have until April 12 to present an alternative plan or leave without a deal. If the alternative plan requires a further extension, the U.K. must take part in the European Parliament election in May.

May said she was still believed firmly that it would be “wrong” to make U.K. voters participate in the election, three years after voting to leave the EU. However, she said that if her deal was rejected, the government would “need to work with the House [of Commons] to decide how we proceed.”

Earlier in the day May had refused to rule out taking the U.K. out of the EU without a deal if MPs rejected her agreement again. But she appeared to strike a softer tone in her late-night press conference.

“If Parliament does not agree a deal next week, the EU Council will extend Article 50 until 12 April. At this point we would either leave with no deal, or put forward an alternative plan,” she said.

May returns to Westminster facing opposition on all sides, with the Labour party seeking to build a majority for an alternative Brexit plan focused on changes to the Political Declaration on the future relationship with the EU, to mandate a softer Brexit, with the U.K. remaining in a customs union and close to the single market.

The House of Commons will have the chance to hold votes on Monday on a government motion, with one plan already put forward which would allow MPs to seize control of the parliamentary timetable from the government.

Within her own ministerial ranks, May also faces the risk of revolt from one or other faction if she steers the U.K. either toward or decisively away from a no deal Brexit. One Cabinet minister, Liz Truss, told the Sun newspaper she would far prefer no deal to a long extension, involving participation in the European election.

Meanwhile ITV reported that the Conservative Chief Whip, Julian Smith, the lead enforcer of May’s authority within the parliamentary party, was angered by her Wednesday statement blaming MPs for the impasse.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.


Read this next: EU leaders grant Brexit extension with strings attached

EU leaders grant Brexit extension with strings attached

Until April 12, ‘all options remain open,’ said Council President Donald Tusk.

EU leaders agreed to postpone Brexit day, imposing two new dates — April 12 and May 22 — that will determine the course of the U.K.’s departure.

The new plan, agreed at a summit in Brussels, was a flat rejection of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s request for an extension of the Article 50 negotiating period to June 30.

Both new dates come with conditions, but in either event the original March 29 deadline — the so-called cliff-edge by which Britain would be expelled from the bloc with or without a divorce agreement — was put off, if only for two weeks.

EU27 leaders said that if the U.K. parliament ratifies the Brexit deal before the March 29 deadline, Britain can have until May 22 to complete the technical steps needed to ratify the deal, exit and begin a transition period. That date is a day before the European Parliament election begins.

If the House of Commons fails to vote by the end of next week, or votes to reject the deal for a third time — the outcome EU leaders appear to view as more likely given continuing political chaos in London — the U.K. would have until April 12 “to indicate a way forward.”

At a press conference after the EU leaders’ meeting, Council President Donald Tusk confirmed that May had agreed to the plan — though in truth, with a no-deal Brexit imminent she had little choice.

“What this means in practice is that until that date [April 12], all options will remain open and the cliff-edge date will be delayed,” said Tusk.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the discussion as “very intense but also very successful.”

In essence, the Council had granted Britain an extension until “April 11 or April 12”, she said. “If there is no positive decision [in the House of Commons], this will be the exit date.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said the new plan put the onus on the U.K. “I wanted to absolutely avoid a summit next week that would have been a crisis summit in bad conditions after maybe another non-decision,” he said.

“The clock is ticking not just on Brexit, the clock is also ticking in other areas,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, indicating a certain frustration that the EU has had to spend so much time on Britain’s departure.

In her own press conference, May reiterated her view that it would be wrong for the U.K. to participate in the European Parliament election. “I believe strongly that it would be wrong to ask people in the U.K. to participate in these elections three years after voting to leave the EU,” she said.

“What the decision today underlines is the importance of the House of Commons passing a Brexit deal next week so that we can bring an end to the uncertainty and leave in a smooth and orderly manner,” she added.

The decision came after hours of agonizing, at times angry, debate and followed the U.K. prime minister’s latest appearance at a European Council summit where she left colleagues infuriated by her lack of clarity and inability to steer the Brexit process.

“The European Council agrees to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week,” the leaders wrote in the formal conclusion of their deliberations. “If the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by the House of Commons next week, the European Council agrees to an extension until 12 April 2019 and expects the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council.”

“Our main goal today was to avoid a hard Brexit next week. So there will be a delay until April 12. If the House of Commons votes for the existing deal next week, there will be an extension until May 22 to allow for an orderly Brexit,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters as he left the summit venue.

“But if they do not agree [to the deal] then we’re a step closer to a hard Brexit, of course,” he said, adding that he “strongly recommended” British MPs vote for the deal.

May had requested an extension until June 30 — ignoring a warning from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that the U.K. would have to participate in the European Parliament election if it stayed in the bloc beyond May 22. Leaders swiftly dismissed that request out of hand.

But May’s lack of clarity about what might happen if she failed to win ratification of the deal, and her unwillingness to state what next-steps she envisioned, left the 27 leaders flummoxed and more divided than at any point in the more than two-year-long Brexit process.

The EU27 spent an hour and 45 minutes questioning May at the start of the summit, and got virtually nowhere. One senior EU official said May’s answers were “not always crystal clear.”

Another senior EU official said: “This discussion did not add much in terms of substance. For the leaders, they didn’t get anything that they didn’t know.”

The discussion continued once May had left the room, but the fierce disagreements among the 27 forced the leaders to upend their summit agenda and put off a planned dinner discussion about China and the EU’s place in the world. Instead, they took a break, and resumed the Brexit discussion over dinner — a demonstration that despite their best efforts, Brexit to a large degree has hijacked the EU’s most substantive policy agenda.

It was during dinner that some of the most heated exchanges took place, officials said.

Chief among the factors that complicated the discussions over when to set the new cliff-edge was the upcoming European Parliament election. Leaders fear that the EU will face an institutional crisis if somehow the U.K. remained a member of the bloc but refused to participate in the election and send representatives to Brussels as required under the EU treaties.

But there were numerous other factors, including concerns about how Brexit would impact individual countries, especially Belgium, which has a national election on May 26, coinciding with the EU election.

French President Emmanuel Macron pushed to bring the proposed May 22 deadline forward to May 7. He also took a hard line in suggesting that the EU might need to simply eject the U.K. without any agreement — a move that could prove economically disastrous not just to Britain but to the EU, especially neighboring countries like Ireland and the Netherlands.

In her own press conference, May appeared to row back from her bullish statement in Downing Street last night in which she blamed MPs for the Brexit impasse. That brought an angry response from many of those she is trying to persuade to back her Brexit deal.

“Last night I expressed my frustration. I know that MPs are frustrated too. They have difficult jobs to do,” she said.

Zia Weise contributed reporting.

Draft text: EU offers Brexit delay to May 22

No further postponement possible if UK does not take part in EU election.

European Council President Donald Tusk proposed May 22 as the new Brexit date, with no further delay possible if Britain does not take part in the European Parliament election, according to draft conclusions of today’s EU summit seen by POLITICO.

British Prime Minister Theresa May had proposed an extension to the Brexit process to June 30.

“The European Council commits to agreeing, before 29 March 2019, to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week,” the draft conclusions say.

“Given that the United Kingdom does not intend to hold elections to the European Parliament, no extension is possible beyond that date.”

The pointed reference to May closing off the possibility of U.K. participation in the EU election highlighted the dismay among EU27 leaders that the British prime minister did not at least leave open the path toward a longer extension.

But if she fails to win ratification of the Brexit deal — which looks increasingly like a long-shot given animosity between May and the House of Commons in the last 24 hours — both sides will have to rethink their positions.

In the draft conclusions, the Council once again declares that the EU will not renegotiate the divorce terms included in the Withdrawal Agreement that they agreed with May back in November. “The European Council reiterates that there can be no opening of the Withdrawal Agreement that was agreed between the Union and the United Kingdom in November 2018,” the draft conclusions state.

One portion of May’s letter on Wednesday that troubled EU leaders was her declaration that intends to issue a an additional policy statement providing certain assurances to constituents in the U.K. Potentially to give the Northern Ireland assembly a role in approving regulatory changes the region would be required to adopt.

The leaders, in the draft conclusions, sought to prevent May from making any proclamation that would undermine the Withdrawal Agreement. “Any unilateral commitment, statement or other act should be compatible with the letter and the sprit of the Withdrawal Agreement,” the draft Conclusions state.

In the six-point draft document, the leaders also call for continuing to prepare for a worst-case no-deal scenario. “The European Council calls for work to be continued on preparedness and contingency at all levels for the consequences of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal, taking into account all possible outcomes,” the document states.

“The European Council will remain seized of the matter,” the draft conclusions state.


Read this next: Petition to cancel Brexit crashes UK parliament website

Part 2: Rutte, from Cameron buddy to May’s stern advocate

The liberal Dutch parties VVD and D66 have two distinct identities and historical predecessors. The VVD is more a car-loving, classical-liberal party with, since 1990’s leader Bolkestein, anti-federalist EU instincts, and has less of an environmental record than D66, who premièred gay marriage and are electoral reformers, very similar to the Lib Dems. Contacts between […]

The liberal Dutch parties VVD and D66 have two distinct identities and historical predecessors. The VVD is more a car-loving, classical-liberal party with, since 1990’s leader Bolkestein, anti-federalist EU instincts, and has less of an environmental record than D66, who premièred gay marriage and are electoral reformers, very similar to the Lib Dems.

Contacts between the Lib Dems and D66 (both social-liberal) are warmer and broader than the VVD-Lib Dems. In Chris Bowers’ biography of Clegg, VVD figures once (p. 104), whereas D66 & Lousewies Vander Laan are on pages  102-3, 104 and 266-7 as Clegg supporters, also in the Coalition.

In the Dutch Balkenende II government (2003-’06), VVD was constantly squabbling about who was leader, and VVD minister Verdonk tried to rob VVD MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali of her Dutch passport, eliciting a no confidence motion from coalition partner D66.

To detoxify the VVD brand, Rutte in his first year as leader (2006-7) tried to set the VVD on a similar green course as Cameron tried with the Tories; both leaders let environmentalism slip because of insufficient backup from party grassroots and cadres. Rutte is totally absent from the Clegg biography (written in 2010).

The Rutte-Cameron relationship, begun while in opposition, blossomed when in 2010 both became prime minister (Rutte accepting support from Wilders, who was attacked by D66’s leader Pechtold).

Rutte, remembering the 2005 Dutch referendum on the “European Constitution” fiasco, warned Cameron against promising anything like a Brexit referendum.

According to David Laws’ book on the Coaliton (p. 406-09), the success D66 had fighting Wilders in debates from 2006 onwards, inspired Rutte’s advice to Clegg to challenge Farage; as we all know, their first 2014 debate was a draw, their second a PR disaster for Clegg and the pro-European cause.

Meanwhile, after the First Rutte Government was broken by Wilders walking out in 2012, Rutte remained strong in the elections and entered a coalition with PvdA (Labour). After Rutte II lost its majority in the Dutch Senate, from 2015 D66 and the orthodox protestant parties (ChristenUnie and SGP) offered confidence and supply in exchange for huge investment in education (D66) and NATO (all three partners). Thus Rutte II could reign the full term, a rarity. After the 2017 elections, Rutte was able to form a coalition with CDA (Christian Democrats), D66 and ChristenUnie. Thus, Rutte was Dutch prime minister from 2010 to the present, becoming a veteran (and mediator, reconciler) in the European Council.

Picking up the Dutch-British relationship when Cameron stood down, May was much helped by Rutte’s experience and stature in European politics; they’re in regular contact by telephone or in bilateral meetings.

This is what Rutte said on March 14th, after her second Brexit Deal disaster in the Commons. I translate verbatim from the coverage by NOS (our BBC): “What’s the sense of keep on whining to each other for more months, after running around that circle for the past two years?”. In his view, the British will have to start dropping some red lines, especially around Northern Ireland and the Customs Union, if we’re going to have any agreement. Rutte announces that he’ll do nothing; it is entirely up to May.

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

WATCH: May urges MPs to support her deal and enable a short extension to Article 50

“Brexit is the will of the British people, we need to deliver that.”

Petition to cancel Brexit crashes UK parliament website

The petition has nearly one million signatures.

An online petition calling on U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to cancel Brexit by revoking Article 50 has attracted nearly one million signatures, crashing the parliament’s petitions website Thursday morning.

Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons, said she had been made aware of technical problems with the site, the BBC reported, but she dismissed the petition as not being of the same significance as the 2016 Brexit referendum.

“Should it reach 17.4 million respondents then I am sure there will be a very clear case for taking action,” she told MPs, noting it was “absolutely right that people do have the opportunity to put their views and that can then spark yet another Brexit debate.”

The Petitions Committee apologized on Twitter for the problems with its website, saying “the rate of signing is the highest the site has ever had to deal with.”

“Between 80,000 and 100,000 people have been simultaneously viewing the petition to revoke Article 50,” the committee said, with “nearly 2,000 signatures being completed every minute.”

In the early afternoon on Thursday, the petition had more than 900,000 signatures, well above the 100,000 threshold to be considered for debate in parliament.

May is in Brussels at the European Council summit today to ask the EU27 for a three-month delay to the U.K.’s departure from the bloc. European Council President Donald Tusk said Wednesday that the delay she seeks would only be approved by the EU27 if her deal is voted through by MPs in British parliament.

The European Court of Justice ruled last December that the U.K. could unilaterally revoke Article 50, which means the U.K. can decide to stay in the EU without the consent of the other 27 member states.

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt told the BBC Today program this morning that if May’s deal is defeated for a third time next week, parliament could vote to cancel Brexit, or the EU could push Britain to hold a second referendum, although he described both these options as “unlikely.”

Margaret Anne Georgiadou, the initiator of the petition, told the BBC that she “became like every other Remainer – very frustrated that we’ve been silenced and ignored for so long.”

“So I think now it’s almost like a dam bursting, because we’ve been held back in a sense — it’s almost like last chance saloon now,” she added.


Read this next: Theresa May refuses to rule out no-deal exit if her plan falls for third time