Theresa May is facing British politicians after the EU offered the UK a six-month Brexit delay, pushing the withdrawal date to Halloween.
The British Prime Minister is making a statement to the House of Commons today following the second extension to the Brexit process, which definitively stopped the clock on a no-deal withdrawal happening on Friday.
The six-month extension to October 31 was a compromise solution thrashed out by EU leaders after French President Emmanuel Macron dug-in against a longer delay lasting into 2020.
The deal has drawn sharp criticism from Tory Eurosceptics and prompted questions about how long Mrs May can stay in power.
Mrs May told an early morning press conference that she still wanted the UK to leave the EU “as soon as possible”.
If a withdrawal deal could be ratified within the first three weeks of May, the UK could still avoid participation in that month’s European Parliament elections and leave the EU in June, she said.
Acknowledging “huge frustration” among voters that the UK has not yet left the EU, she said: “The choices we now face are stark and the timetable is clear.
“So we must now press on at pace with our efforts to reach a consensus on a deal that is in the national interest.”
European Council president Donald Tusk did not rule out further extensions beyond October.
And he sent a message to the UK: “This extension is as flexible as I expected, and a little bit shorter than I expected, but it’s still enough to find the best possible solution.
“Please do not waste this time.”
Former British Brexit secretary David Davis insisted that no progress had been made in Brussels and that pressure on Mrs May to quit as PM will increase, telling the BBC: “I think what is likely to happen is the pressure for her to go will go up.
“The pressure on her to go will increase dramatically, I suspect, now.”
Leading Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg criticised the latest delay after the UK was originally scheduled to quit the bloc on March 29 and said there is “some symbolism” in the new Halloween Brexit date.
He said: “I thought the Prime Minister said a few weeks ago that she wouldn’t agree to any extension and now we are getting quite a long one.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea and it is not delivering on the referendum result.
“People expected to leave on March 29 and here we are heading towards Halloween. There’s some symbolism in that I think.”
British Environment Secretary Michael Gove declined to answer questions on whether there would be a challenge to Mrs May for the Tory leadership before the new Brexit deadline.
British Commons Leader and prominent Leave backer Andrea Leadsom played down speculation that the latest delay could mean the end of Brexit.
She said: “We have to use this time to make sure that we deliver the Brexit we are all looking for, that we work closely with the EU and that they are genuinely helping to make sure we do deliver on the referendum – there won’t be any changing our minds about that.”
Talks between the British Government and Labour to find a compromise way forward on Brexit will continue at official level on Thursday.
Mrs May said: “I do not pretend the next few weeks will be easy or that there is a simple way to break the deadlock in Parliament.
“But we have a duty as politicians to find a way to fulfil the democratic decision of the referendum, deliver Brexit and move our country forward. Nothing is more pressing or more vital.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the UK can leave at any time if the Withdrawal Agreement reached last November is ratified by the Westminster Parliament.
If the UK fails to take part in elections to the European Parliament on May 23-26, it will automatically leave without a deal on June 1.
A review of progress will take place at the scheduled June 20 European Council summit in Brussels, but Mr Tusk stressed that this would be an opportunity for “taking stock” and not for any new negotiations.
The term of the current European Commission under Jean-Claude Juncker ends on October 31.
A UK exit by that date would get round the diplomatically awkward requirement for London to appoint a new Commissioner to his successor’s team.
Mrs May gave a one-hour presentation setting out her case for an extension to June 30, with a break clause allowing the UK to leave as soon as her Withdrawal Agreement was ratified.
But she had to leave the EU27 to discuss the UK’s future in her absence over a dinner of scallop soup and loin of cod.
It took five hours of wrangling before she was summoned back from the residence of UK ambassador Sir Tim Barrow at almost 1am Brussels time (12am BST) for her agreement to be sought.
She consulted British Attorney General Geoffrey Cox by telephone before confirming that the new deal was acceptable.
EU27/UK have agreed a flexible extension until 31 October. This means additional six months for the UK to find the best possible solution.— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) April 10, 2019
Senior British sources indicated that the PM intended to stand by her promise to the Tory 1922 Committee of backbenchers to stand down once the first phase of Brexit negotiations are complete.
A Halloween Brexit would mean the second phase – dealing with the future UK/EU trade and security relationship – would not get under way until late in the autumn.
Labour MP Mary Creagh, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, said: “MPs must move swiftly to break the Brexit deadlock with a confirmatory ballot on the PM’s deal.”
And we’re done. (1) Flextension to Oct 31st (2) We’ll take stock of situation at our regular summit in June (3) UK to take part in @Europarl_EN election or must leave on June 1st without a deal.
Good night !— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) April 11, 2019
Meanwhile, DUP leader Arlene Foster, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson were meeting EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier today to discuss issues related to the backstop.
- Press Association