Theresa May blames MPs for Brexit delay

The UK prime minister said the delay was ‘a matter of great personal regret.’

LONDON — Theresa May blamed MPs for her request to delay Brexit for three months, warning the public was fast losing patience with the “political games” in Westminster.

In a rare address to the nation Wednesday night from inside Number 10 Downing Street, the U.K. prime minister said her application for an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period was “a matter of great personal regret” but was necessary to deliver Brexit.

The short five-minute address came after another day of high drama in Westminster in which she hinted she would quit rather than delay Brexit any further.

Speaking from behind a lectern inside No.10 Downing Street the prime minister said: “You the public have had enough… I agree, I am on your side.” She added: “You asked us to get on with it, and that is what I am determined to do.” A longer delay would only serve to “give more time for politicians to argue,” she argued.

May’s statement to the nation came after she warned MPs earlier in the day she was not prepared “as prime minister” to delay Brexit any further than three months.

The remark sparked immediate speculation she will quit if parliament votes down her deal for a third time, leaving only no-deal Brexit or a second request for a much longer extension the remaining options without halting Brexit altogether.

“Prime Minister May’s proposal until the 30th of June, which has its merits, creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature” — Donald Tusk

Extending beyond July would mean the U.K. taking part in elections for the European Parliament in May — a prospect May said was “unacceptable.”

Responding to May’s request for a short extension to the end of June, European Council President Donald Tusk said this would only be granted if the House of Commons passed the prime minister’s deal before March 29. Tusk’s intervention effectively presents MPs with a choice between May’s deal, no-deal and an uncertain lengthy extension which will be determined by EU leaders.

British Prime Minister Theresa May | Leon Neal/Getty Images

In his statement, Tusk said details about an extension remained to be discussed but that EU27 leaders could not make any decisions until the House of Commons voted to approve the Withdrawal Agreement and accompanying Political Declaration.

“Prime Minister May’s proposal until the 30th of June, which has its merits, creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature,” Tusk said. “Leaders will discuss this tomorrow.”

In her letter, May said she hoped to bring her deal back for another vote but could not say when, or even if it would happen before the existing Brexit deadline of March 29.

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Donald Tusk: No Brexit extension without green light for deal

The European Council president said an extension was “conditional” on a positive vote for the deal in the House of Commons.

Theresa May’s request to delay the U.K.’s departure from the EU will only be granted if the House of Commons passes the Brexit deal agreed between London and Brussels, European Council Donald Tusk said Wednesday.

Responding in a brief statement to U.K. Prime Minister’s request to extend until June 30 the deadline for the U.K.’s departure, Tusk said such an extension could win approval in Brussels but only upon ratification of the withdrawal deal, which the House of Commons has rejected twice with huge majorities against it in January and March.

“Today I received a letter from Prime Minister May in which she addresses the European Council with two requests, to approve the so-called Strasbourg agreement between the U.K. and the European Commission and to extend the Article 50 period until 30th of June, 2019,” Tusk said.

“Just now I had a phone call with Prime Minister May about these proposals. In light of the consultations I have conducted over the past days, I believe that a short extension will be possible, but it will be conditional on a positive vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons.”

In her letter, May said she hopes to bring the treaty back for another vote but that she could not say when, and even expected it could not happen before the existing Brexit deadline of March 29.

Theresa May has asked for extra time | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Tusk, in his statement, said details about an extension remain to be discussed but that EU27 leaders could not make any decisions until the House of Commons votes affirmatively to approve the Withdrawal Agreement and accompanying Political Declaration.

“Prime Minister May’s proposal until the 30th of June, which has its merits, creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature,” Tusk said. “Leaders will discuss this tomorrow.”

He said he believes leaders would be willing to approve the so-called Strasbourg agreement in which European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offered additional reassurances on the Northern Ireland backstop provision, which is designed to avoid the need for a hard border in all circumstances. Those assurances failed to sway enough votes in the U.K. parliament, which swiftly rejected the deal before going on in subsequent votes to also reject the prospect of a no-deal exit, and to endorse the idea of an extension.

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Theresa May requests Brexit extension until June 30

Prime minister says she wants MPs to ratify deal next week.

Theresa May still hasn’t given up on her Brexit deal, but warned she is “not prepared” to delay Brexit any longer than three months.

May requested an extension — until June 30 — of the deadline by which the U.K. must reach a deal on its departure or be expelled automatically from the bloc with no safety net. EU27 leaders were expecting the request, but it is far from clear how they will respond. They are due to discuss the extension issue on Thursday at a European Council summit in Brussels.

May’s request, made in a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, described a still-complicated and highly uncertain legislative process that she hopes to undertake in order to win ratification of the Brexit deal, which the U.K. Parliament has twice rejected by massive majorities.

In her letter, May acknowledged that an unexpected ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, had made it impossible for her to bring the deal back to Parliament for a third ratification vote this week, thereby requiring her to request the extension.

May suggested that formal approval by the European Council of additional assurances regarding the backstop provision on the Northern Ireland border would constitute sufficient changes to the deal for her to request another vote. She also wrote that she would put forward a new motion to Parliament along with additional assurances by her government.

“If the motion is passed, I am confident that Parliament will proceed to ratify the deal constructively,” she wrote.

The EU27 are unlikely to share her confidence.

Not only has Parliament rejected the treaty twice before, but the second defeat took place after British MPs were fully aware of the new assurances that May had agreed with Brussels. There is little new to persuade them, though May’s hopes seem to hinge on finally clinching some deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, whose MPs prop up her government.

And her letter was filled with conjecture and uncertainty about the immediate next steps in the legislative process — a stark contrast to the certainty and predictability that EU27 leaders have set as a precondition for granting an extension. May also said nothing about what might happen if she fails, once again, to win ratification.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday said that EU27 leaders would be unlikely to reach a decision on the U.K.’s request this week, potentially requiring an additional summit just before the March 29 deadline. A note circulated in the College of Commissioners also urged that the 27 leaders offer the U.K. a simple, binary choice.

“Any extension offered to the United Kingdom should either last until 23 May 2019 or should be significantly longer and require European elections,” the note, obtained by POLITICO, said. The May date is significant because it marks the start of the European Parliament election.

The document argued that “this is the only way of protecting the functioning of the EU institutions and their ability to take decisions,” referring to concerns that the U.K. could jeopardize the legitimacy of the next European Parliament, potentially paralyzing EU lawmaking, if it is still a member of the bloc on election day but doesn’t take part in the ballot.

In their deliberations, EU leaders must also take account of the U.K.’s legal right, confirmed by a decision of  the European Court of Justice, to unilaterally withdraw its notification of its intention to leave the EU. Such a move, regardless of any extension agreement, could cause havoc for the institutions.

In her letter to Tusk, May acknowledged the EU’s previously expressed position that a longer extension — beyond the seating of the new European Parliament in early July — would require the U.K. to participate in the European election. In the House of Commons on Wednesday, May argued strongly against that.

“I do not believe such elections would be in anyone’s interest,” she told MPs. “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 that this house said it would honour.”

Her intervention was taken as an implicit signal that she would resign if MPs reject her withdrawal deal when it returns to the House of Commons a third time next week.

“If that vote is passed, the extension will give the house time to consider the withdrawal agreement bill. If not, the house will have to decide how to proceed. But as prime minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June.”

EU27 leaders have never formally discussed the extension issue, but officials have been preparing for a robust debate on the merits, risks and potentially unforeseen consequences of either a short or longer delay. While the EU27 can only grant an extension by unanimity, the EU treaties are silent on all other aspects of the decision. They could potentially make a counter-offer to the U.K., or offer May a take-it-or-leave-it alternative.

While the leaders’ discussion is scheduled for Thursday afternoon during the summit, they are unlikely to make a decision until closer to the deadline. Several have expressed the view that the U.K. must provide a clear and convincing reason for an extension, and some have said that a short extension should be granted only if the House of Commons has already ratified the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration that make up the Brexit deal.

Juncker told German radio on Wednesday morning that EU leaders will likely not make a decision on extending the Brexit negotiating period at this week’s summit and instead hold another meeting next week to decide.

“My assessment … is that the European Council this week won’t come to a decision and we’ll probably have to meet again next week because Mrs. May doesn’t have approval for anything — not in her Cabinet and not in parliament,” Juncker said. “As long as we don’t know what Britain could say yes to, we can’t come to any decision.”

Council officials said they could organize a special summit within 24 hours, leaving open the possibility of a dramatic event on the day of the U.K.’s prescribed departure.

Tom McTague contributed reporting.

How to watch the Brexit crunch like a pro

EU leaders are due to consider a request to extend the Brexit deadline on Thursday.

European leaders gather in Brussels at a defining moment in the Brexit process. Little more than a week before the U.K. is scheduled to leave there is still no agreement on an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period.

The alternatives? A revocation of the U.K.’s notice to leave which Prime Minister Theresa May has already deemed unthinkable, and a no-deal exit that most observers predict would mean a serious economic shock.

Here are the key moments to watch out for during the European Council summit and beyond:

Wednesday – Two letters

The prime minister wrote to European Council President Donald Tusk Wednesday setting out her request for an extension — until June 30. We’ll also see Tusk’s own invitation letter to EU leaders arriving for Thursday’s summit, where he will set the framework for their discussion of May’s request.

Theresa May arriving at the European Summit in December 2018, flanked by Tim Barrow the U.K.’s permanent representative to the EU | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Under the terms agreed by the House of Commons last week, May was going to ask for a short extension up to June 30, if MPs had backed her Brexit deal by today. They haven’t. The motion agreed by the House of Commons was not 100 percent clear on what May will do in the current circumstances. It only notes that the EU would want a reason from the U.K. for any extension that would involve the U.K. taking part in European Parliament election in May.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons there is likely to be a call for an emergency debate on May’s Brexit extension intentions, as well as two Brexit-related urgent questions from backbenchers.

Thursday – EU leaders meet 

Attention will shift to the EU leaders and their response. The first item on the European Council summit agenda is a meeting of the EU27 (without Theresa May) to discuss the state of play. This is due to start at 3.30 p.m. Brussels time, but watch out for what EU27 leaders say on their way into the summit.

“An extension for what? Which ones are the objectives?” — EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier

Afterwards, Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker are due to give a press conference at 7 p.m. Brussels time. The summit dinner, which May is expected to attend, begins at 7.30 p.m. The topic for discussion during dinner is China, but there’s still a chance that Brexit could feature.

What EU leaders will decide depends on what May requests. But EU officials said their paramount goals are to avoid a potentially catastrophic no-deal departure by the U.K. and to safeguard the functioning of EU institutions by trying to limit the potential complications an extension would pose for the European Parliament election in May.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier said EU leaders will demand a purpose. “An extension for what? Which ones are the objectives?” he asked Tuesday.

However, despite all the action, we won’t necessarily get a firm answer from the EU to the U.K.’s extension request. Juncker told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio station on Wednesday morning that the European Council likely won’t come to a decision this week and that “we’ll probably have to meet again next week.”

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said EU leaders would probably not reach a decision on an Article 50 extension at this week’s summit | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

He indicated that May would require “approval of the treaty that’s been negotiated” from Cabinet and parliament in order for leaders to agree an extension. If that’s the case the chances of no deal just shot up, because at the moment there is still no indication May has won round enough MPs to vote for her deal.

Friday — Summit day two

EU leaders are scheduled to turn to other non-Brexit business for the second day of the summit on Friday.

May will still be present, and it’s possible she will hold a press conference after the summit ends in the afternoon (if she hasn’t already spoken to the media on Thursday — no decisions have yet been made).

Another Tusk/Juncker press conference is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. Brussels time.

The weekend — Last chance to persuade MPs?

Depending on what happens at the summit, May might be spending the weekend frantically trying to win over MPs to back her deal in a possible final attempt at ratification next week.

Monday — Amendable Brexit motion

On Monday, the House of Commons could seize control from May’s hands.

A government motion on Brexit, required under the terms of the Withdrawal Act following May’s latest defeat on her Brexit deal, must be debated by this day in the House of Commons. It’s an amendable motion and MPs will be able to vote on any amendments brought forward — much like previous rounds of voting we saw in January and February.

The votes themselves would be non-binding on the government but there is a mechanism by which MPs could take control of the Commons timetable, paving the way for binding legislation. This is what Labour MP Yvette Cooper, Tory MP Nick Boles and likeminded MPs have already attempted (so far without winning a majority) but they may try a similar gambit.

Later next week — Emergency summit?

Such is the uncertainty of the current moment, it’s hard to predict far beyond the next few days.

But Juncker’s comment suggests that Brussels is gearing up for a potential emergency EU summit. That may only happen if May has somehow got her deal through the House of Commons.

Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow put a spanner in Theresa May’s plans for a third meaningful vote on her Brexit deal | Alex B. Huckle via Getty Images

To do that she needs to persuade Speaker John Bercow that the deal on the table is substantially different to the ones already put to MPs. Bercow said on Monday that re-running the vote on the same deal again and again was a breach of House of Commons convention that he would not allow.

If an extension is agreed, then there will need to be a debate and vote in both the Commons and the Lords on the legal change to the March 29 Brexit date in U.K. law. Ministers can change it using a so-called statutory instrument but peers and MPs need to agree. Brexiteers in the Commons will do everything they can to retain the original date.


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No. 10 says Theresa May won’t seek long Brexit delay as EU flags extra summit

‘We’ll probably have to meet again next week because Mrs. May doesn’t have approval for anything — not in her Cabinet and not in parliament,’ Jean-Claude Juncker says.

Theresa May will not be asking the EU for a “long extension” to Brexit talks, according to a No. 10 official, as the EU said it would likely have to hold an extra European Council summit next week to deal with the British PM’s request.

“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,” the No. 10 official said today. “They are fed up with parliament’s failure to take a decision and the PM shares their frustration.” The official would not confirm what they meant by a long extension.

Shortly after the news emerged, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Deutschlandfunk radio that EU leaders will likely not make a decision on extending the Brexit negotiating period at a summit this week and instead hold another meeting next week to decide.

“My assessment … is that the European Council this week won’t come to a decision and we’ll probably have to meet again next week because Mrs. May doesn’t have approval for anything — not in her Cabinet and not in parliament,” Juncker said. “As long as we don’t know what Britain could say yes to, we can’t come to any decision.”

May will today make a formal request to Brussels to extend the Article 50 Brexit negotiating process amid enormous pressure from Euroskeptics within her party not to delay the divorce by more than three months.

The PM will publish an official letter to European Council President Donald Tusk setting out the detail and justification of Britain’s need for a delay today.

Asked what May will need to have in her baggage to secure an extension, Juncker said: “She must have approval of the treaty that’s been negotiated and she must have a clear idea of timing.”

The Commission president added: “We have moved intensively toward Britain, more isn’t possible.”

With days to Brexit deadline, EU keeps options open

Debate intensifies over likely extension request, but EU27 still holding out hope for Brexit treaty ratification.

Just 10 days to go, but Brussels is keeping all Brexit options open.

EU leaders will gather for a summit in Brussels on Thursday at which the 27 (initially without Theresa May) will discuss a likely request for an extension of the U.K.’s March 29 Brexit deadline.

An intense debate is already underway in Brussels and in European capitals over the relative merits, drawbacks and risks of either a relatively short extension — lasting perhaps until July 1 — or a longer extension of potentially a year or more.

But with the U.K. prime minister having yet to make a formal request for a delay, let alone expressing any particular preference for a long or short extension, EU officials and diplomats said there is little they could do but await further clarity.

It’s hardly an unfamiliar position.

“I think that a long extension — I have said it to ministers — must be linked to something new, a new event, a new political process” — Michel Barnier

As the watching and waiting continued, EU officials said their paramount goals are to avoid a potentially catastrophic no-deal departure by the U.K. and to safeguard the functioning of EU institutions by trying to limit the potential complications an extension would pose for the European Parliament election in May. They are also adamant the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement will not be renegotiated.

Much, they said, would depend on May’s request, which is expected to arrive Wednesday in the form of a letter from London. But even that request may offer little certainty. Some officials said Britain could potentially request both a short and long extension depending on how circumstances unfold — a short, technical delay if the U.K. parliament ratifies the Brexit deal before March 29; or a longer extension if it does not.

The uncertainty hung like a dark cloud over the European Council on Tuesday as ministers met for a General Affairs council meeting. Nathalie Loiseau, the French European affairs minister, said the 27 were certain to grant a short extension if the withdrawal  treaty is ratified and the U.K. just needs time.

“A short extension in order to conclude the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, of course that would be granted,” Loiseau said. “But we don’t even know whether it will be ratified, that is up to the British MPs to decide.” But Loiseau said an extension without justification would be a hard sell.

EU officials have insisted that any request by London for an extension must be justified with clear reasons for the delay.

“We need something new,” Loiseau said. “Because if it is an extension to remain in the same deadlock where we are now, how do we get out of it?”

Michael Roth, the German minister for Europe, said patience was running low. “We are really exhausted by these negotiations and I expect clear and precise proposals by the British government, why such an extension is necessary,” Roth said.

That point was reiterated on Tuesday by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, at a news conference after he briefed EU ministers in Brussels.

Barnier said that a request for a longer extension must come with “a new political process” in Britain. He did not specify what that means, but among the EU27 it is generally understood to involve a new national election, a second referendum or both.

British Prime Minister Theresa May | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

“I think that a long extension — I have said it to ministers — must be linked to something new, a new event, a new political process,” Barnier said.

EU officials have long expressed frustration that May, despite successfully brokering the Withdrawal Agreement and accompanying Political Declaration, has failed to generate any national consensus in the U.K. in support of the deal.

Among the more influential EU27 countries, officials said Germany favors more flexibility in granting an extension, provided there is justification from London, while France has taken a harder line, seeing little prospect of British political dynamics changing anytime soon.

Officials said there is also debate among the EU27 about when to make a decision on an extension. Several countries are pushing for the bloc to delay giving Britain an answer until much closer to the March 29 deadline, allowing as much time as possible for May to stage another vote in the House of Commons and persuade MPs to change their minds.

The chances of such a vote seemed to dwindle on Monday after the speaker, John Bercow, said another vote could not be held without substantial changes to the proposal. But the government is investigating ways to overcome the obstacle set by Bercow and hold another vote.

The Commons has already rejected the Brexit deal twice by massive majorities, and any large shift in votes is expected only if May can persuade the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to come round to supporting it. That would bring most Brexiteers on her own backbenches into line. But even then, she is likely to need several votes from opposition Labour MPs.

Barnier, at his news conference, also suggested there is still room for at least cosmetic adjustments that could help win ratification of the treaty in London. He reiterated the EU’s offer that the Political Declaration, which sets out the framework for upcoming talks on the U.K.’s future relationship with the EU, “could be made more ambitious in the coming days if a majority in the House of Commons so wishes.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn | Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Barnier’s emphasis on the Political Declaration was a gift to political forces in the House of Commons seeking a majority around an alternative, softer Brexit.

Even as he spoke, the foundations of just such a potential majority were being laid.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who wants a permanent customs union with the EU and close, lasting alignment with single market rules, met with Conservative MPs Nick Boles and Oliver Letwin, and other members of a cross-party group of backbenchers seeking what they call “Common Market 2.0,” keeping the U.K. in the single market.

“All participants pledged to work together and with others across parliament to find a Commons majority for a close economic relationship with the EU to break the Brexit impasse and bring the country together,” a Labour spokesperson said shortly after the meeting broke up.

“They discussed how to build greater support on areas of agreement between Labour’s alternative plan and Common Market 2.0 and find possible areas of compromise.”

They could have an opportunity to test their plan in the Commons within days. Under the terms of the Withdrawal Act, the government’s defeat on its Brexit deal last week binds it to put forward an amendable motion on Brexit, which will be debated by the house on Monday. MPs will have the opportunity to vote on amendments that could help to determine a way forward out of the impasse.

Donald Trump Jr: ‘Brexit and my father’s election are one and the same’

US president’s son attacks a ‘last-gasp attempt by those previously in power to cling on to what was once theirs.’

U.S. President Donald Trump’s eldest son said the “establishment” is trying to “silence the voices” of those who voted for Brexit and elected his father.

Writing in the Telegraph, Trump Jr. said British Prime Minister Theresa May has “promised on more than 50 separate occasions that Britain would leave the EU on March 29 2019. She needs to honour that promise.”

“But Mrs May ignored advice from my father, and ultimately, a process that should have taken only a few short months has become a years-long stalemate, leaving the British people in limbo.”

Trump Jr., whose net worth is reputed to be $200 million and who is executive vice president of his father’s business empire, also said that “elites control London from Brussels” and that with the Brexit deadline fast approaching, “it appears that democracy in the UK is all but dead.”

Trump the younger also drew parallels between the Brexit vote and the election triumph of his father, saying they were “one and the same.”

“Why is this important for us Americans? Because Brexit is an example of how the establishment elites try to subvert the will of the people when they’re given the chance.

“When my father beat the Washington establishment in a historic outcome in 2016, just a few months after the Brexit vote, we mistakenly presumed there would be a peaceful and respectful transition of power from the Democrats to the Republicans, just as there has always been in this country.

“Instead, the Democrats and deep-state operatives in our justice system have been colluding to subvert the will of the American people, with high-level officials even discussing a scheme to try to remove him from office using the 25th Amendment of our constitution.

“In a way, you could say that Brexit and my father’s election are one and the same — the people of both the UK and the US voted to uproot the establishment for the sake of individual freedom and independence, only to see the establishment try to silence their voices and overturn their mandates.

“What we’re seeing now in Washington, London and Brussels is the desperate, last-gasp attempt by those previously in power to cling on to what was once theirs in the face of an overwhelming mandate for change.”


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Michel Barnier: Long Brexit delay would need ‘new political process’

The EU’s chief negotiator said any delay to Brexit day will need UK to set out what purpose it serves.

Michel Barnier said he had advised EU ministers that a long extension to Brexit would have to be linked to a “a new political process” in the U.K.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, who was speaking to journalists after briefing ministers on the General Affairs Council, did not specify what sort of change he meant, but he emphasized that the EU would need to see a clear purpose to any extension.

“I think that a long extension — I have said it to [EU] ministers — must be linked to something new, a new event, a new political process,” he said, without saying whether he had a change of negotiating red lines, a second referendum or something else in mind.

Diplomats say that they expect that U.K Prime minister Theresa May will send a letter ahead of Thursday’s European Council summit in Brussels. That will spell out London’s request to extend the Brexit cut off date beyond March 29 — something that May was forced into doing by a vote in the House of Commons last week. There must be unanimity among EU27 leaders for the extension of the Article 50 negotiating period to go ahead.

According to some diplomats, May could keep the door open to both possibilities — a short and a long extension. But Barnier declined to say whether this option would go down with EU leaders: “Either it’s short or it’s long but the question is what is the purpose?” he said, adding that he could not prejudge a decision that can only be taken by EU27 leaders.

Michel Barnier greets British PM Theresa May in Brussels on March 23 2018 | Jack Taylor via Getty Images

“An extension for what? Which ones are the objectives?” he asked.

He then specified three questions that leaders will ask before agreeing an extension: Does an extension increase the chances of ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement? Will the extension offer more time to rework the Political Declaration? How can the EU ensure it is not in the same position at the end of the extension?

He reiterated the EU’s offer that the Political Declaration, which sets out the framework for upcoming talks on the U.K.’s future relationship, “could be made more ambitious in the coming days if a majority in the House of Commons so wishes. If not what would be the purpose and the outcome of an extension?”


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UK Brexit secretary: Government still wants third Brexit deal vote

Stephen Barclay says Commons speaker’s ruling raises risk of no Brexit.

The U.K. government will continue its attempts to secure MPs’ backing for Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal and seek to bring it back for a third so-called meaningful vote, despite Monday’s intervention by the House of Commons speaker barring such a move unless the deal is “substantially” changed, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said.

Barclay added that the Cabinet would discuss Speaker John Bercow’s ruling on Tuesday morning. “It’s an important ruling which has raised the bar, and it’s something we’ll discuss at Cabinet this morning … From my background playing sport, I think you always respect the referee and you abide by the referee’s decisions,” he told the BBC’s Today program.

“The speaker has always said he is keen to give force to the will of the house, and I think if the will of the house is for a further vote then I’m sure the speaker would look at that very closely,” Barclay added.

He suggested that “if we see a number of MPs changing their vote, if we seek clarity in terms of an extension from the [European] Council,” then these movements would be sufficient to be able to bring May’s deal back to the House of Commons for a third vote.

Barclay said that MPs should rally behind May’s deal or risk having “no Brexit at all.”

The Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow attending the inauguration of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013 | Andy Rain/EPA

“What has become very clear from the speaker’s ruling is that my Brexit[-supporting] colleagues can see there is a growing risk of no Brexit, and what really matters is getting a deal agreed,” he said.

“You either have a deal, you have no deal or you have no Brexit.”

Barclay said he hopes May would be able to go to this week’s European Council summit needing only to seek “a short technical extension [to the Article 50 period], if the house supports the prime minister’s deal,” but added the U.K. will “also have to have discussions with our EU colleagues in terms of a longer extension.”


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Brexit delay shreds Theresa May’s strategy

Say goodbye to any significance to the March 29 Brexit date.

LONDON — The world could look very different by the end of the week.

Despite fevered speculation in Westminster about the prospect of a third vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, the stark reality facing MPs over the next 48 hours is that if EU leaders agree later this week to extend Article 50, Brexit is automatically delayed — and March 29 disappears as a meaningful deadline.

The consequences of putting off Brexit day are potentially profound, yet barely acknowledged in Westminster, where many Brexiteers remain confident Britain will depart the EU with or without a deal on March 29, particularly after Monday’s bombshell ruling from House of Commons Speaker John Bercow curtailing the government’s scope to bring back the same deal for further votes.

However, if EU leaders agree to scrap March 29 as exit day — a date so significant that the Treasury commissioned commemorative coins on which it would be inscribed — the pressure to agree or reject the prime minister’s deal will all-but disappear. That matters because alternatives that have up until now looked impossible because there was not enough time — such as a general election, a move to force Theresa May out as prime minister or a substantial renegotiation of the Political Declaration based on new red lines — come back into the frame as credible options. Downing Street’s tactic of using the impending Brexit date as leverage with MPs disappears overnight.

“Once an extension is agreed, it is binding in international law,” explained one senior U.K. government official who said this fact was being largely overlooked in parliament. “Once you’ve got unanimous agreement, the date in Article 50 effectively changes from March 29 to whatever is agreed.”

The stance in Brussels is that if an extension to Article 50 is agreed, a new exit day is automatically created.

Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, are still urging the prime minister to attempt to renegotiate the contentious Irish backstop before bringing it back to parliament.

In Brussels, the position is clear. A so-called “room document” circulated among ambassadors at a meeting on Friday evening — and seen by POLITICO — confirmed that if an extension to Article 50 is agreed, a new exit day is automatically created. “The latter date will then become the cut-off date when the separation automatically happens,” the document states.

This will only change in two circumstances: “[Either] a withdrawal agreement has entered into force or unless the notification of the intention to withdraw has been revoked.”

In Westminster, the U.K. government will be obliged to tweak the EU (Withdrawal) Act to change the exit day, but this can be done by a minister using secondary legislation known as a Statutory Instrument. It remains a source of contention whether the U.K. needs to change its domestic law to delay Brexit at all, because it would continue to be bound by its international commitments regardless.

House of Commons speaker John Bercow | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Bercow’s intervention, on the face of it, severely restricts the government’s room for maneuver for a third or forth meaningful vote. Bringing the deal back to the House of Commons this week now looks next to impossible. But if the summit does produce a decision to delay Brexit day, ministers could argue that even if the deal itself is unchanged, the proposition MPs are voting on would be subject to a “demonstrable change,” in the phraseology adopted by the speaker.

May is committed to requesting an extension following last week’s votes by MPs against no-deal and for a delay to Britain’s exit. But an extension is not a foregone conclusion. It requires the unanimous approval of EU27 leaders and the message from many senior EU figures has been that while they are open to extension, it must have a purpose.

They might refuse to grant an extension of Article 50 at this week’s summit unless the U.K. prime minister offers a clear reason for the delay — such as a second referendum, general election or reversal of British red lines on the customs union and single market.

However, it remains unclear how the European Council will thrash out an extension. The leaders of the 27 remaining member states will meet without the U.K. PM before dinner on Thursday. If they accept or reject her request, the process is simple. But should they make a counteroffer — either by attaching conditions or offering an extension of a different length — senior U.K. officials are unclear how London will formally accept or approve the proposal.

Theresa May arrives at the European Council for a summit with EU leaders in December 2018 | Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

The “room document” circulated to ambassadors last week, states that EU leaders would need evidence that the U.K. agrees to any proposal before they could sign it off. The request for an extension itself does not suffice, the document states.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders stuck to the EU line on his way into a Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels Monday morning. “We are not against an extension in Belgium, but the problem is to do what?” he said.

“We should be open for a longer extension if there is an argued reason for doing so,” Hans Dahlgren, the Swedish EU affairs minister, told the Local, “But just to have the process going on and on and on without any plan for what the options on the table would be, that’s not very attractive.”

The “room document” makes clear that any extension beyond July 1 would require the U.K. to elect MEPs to the European Parliament in the upcoming election.

One U.K. official said MPs have missed their chance to shape the government’s request for an extension by failing to put forward an amendment last week setting out the terms or length of an extension. “Parliament had its chance to vote on this last week,” said the official. “No one even proposed a date in terms of extension, so it’s up to the government.”