As MPs get ready to vote on an extension to Article 50, Mr Tusk gave hope to Remainers, who want to put off Brexit as long as possible so that they can win enough support for a second referendum.
Mr Tusk tweeted this morning: “During my consultations ahead of #EUCO, I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its #Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.”
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) March 14, 2019
His comments will no doubt fuel Brexiteers anger, who want Britain to leave the EU on March 29th as promised.
However, Chancellor Philip Hammond said that it is “certain” that MPs will vote to authorise Theresa May to seek a delay to Brexit.
Mr Hammond denied being at odds with the Prime Minister, after he called for Parliament to seek a “consensus” solution to Brexit and to “explore other options” if her deal is voted down for a third time next week.
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But Labour called on him to join them in cross-party talks on finding a “compromise” which can command the support of Parliament, after Mrs May’s authority was severely dented by three defeats in the space of 24 hours.
Mr Hammond is the most prominent of a group of Cabinet ministers suspected by Leave-backing Tories of being prepared to accept a “softer” form of Brexit.
There have been calls for the removal of four Cabinet ministers, Greg Clark, Amber Rudd, David Gauke and David Mundell, and several of lower rank who failed to vote with the Government on a motion ruling out a no-deal Brexit.
Work and pensions minister Sarah Newton quit the Government to vote for the motion.
But Mr Clark told ITV1’s Peston that the decision to whip the vote was made “very late in the day” without collective discussion, and the abstainers believed they were acting “completely in accordance with long-standing Government policy”.
Mr Hammond said there was “confusion” around the vote and told Sky News: “I don’t expect there to be mass sackings as a result of last night.”
There were suggestions as Mrs May went down to a 43-vote defeat on Wednesday that ministers had been assured they would not face repercussions for defying the whip.
But one abstaining minister said: “I wasn’t told anything other than to vote against the amended motion.”
And health minister Stephen Hammond said he had received no assurances he would keep his job.
MPs will vote today on a Government motion proposing to seek a delay in the date of Brexit from March 29 to June 30 if the Commons approves Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement in a third “meaningful vote” by next Wednesday.
But the motion warns that if the deal, already rejected by 230 votes in January and 149 this week, fails again, the UK may have to accept a longer extension and take part in European Parliament elections in May.
Any extension must be approved unanimously by the 27 remaining EU states, and Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl said there could be “some problem” in obtaining this if it took Brexit beyond the date of elections.
Philip Hammond urged hard Brexiteers to consider backing Theresa May’s deal when it returns to the Commons.
Labour has tabled an amendment to the motion on Article 50, requiring Mrs May to seek an extension to avoid exiting the EU on March 29 without a deal and to “provide Parliamentary time for this House to find a majority for a different approach”.
Other amendments from The Independent Group and Liberal Democrats ask for a delay to provide time for a second referendum, something which is notably absent from Labour’s proposal.
Steve Baker, a leading member of the European Research Group (ERG) of eurosceptic Tory MPs, branded the situation a “fiasco”.
He told Peston: “It is, of course, extraordinary to see such a collapse in discipline. And in any other circumstances, of course, they would be fired.
“Of course I’m sad about it. I didn’t get into politics for this chaos, this fiasco.”