Theresa May has appealed to MPs to approve her Brexit deal ‘as soon as possible’ the day after she agreed to delay Brexit until 31 October.
The Prime Minister said the House of Commons would vote on her deal again after the Easter recess, but stressed that there was no chance of renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement already rejected three times by MPs.
She said that if the Commons fails to approve a deal again there would be a series of votes on ‘a small number of options for the future relationship’ and that the Government would abide by the decision of the house.
This would open up the possibility of the UK staying in a customs union with the EU – an idea loathed by Brexiteers.
Mrs May said yesterday’s late-night talks with the EU to delay Brexit were ‘difficult’, but claimed that she had secured compromises on behalf of Britain.
She said: “There was a range of views about the length of an extension with a large number of member states preferring a longer extension to the end of this year or even into the next.
“In the end what was agreed by the UK and the EU27 was a compromise – an extension lasting until the end of October.”
Eurosceptic Conservatives have reacted with fury to the second Brexit delay, with a number calling for her to step aside.
Addressing a packed House of Commons, MP Bill Cash told Mrs May to step aside after delaying Brexit again.
I have just asked the Prime Minister to resign. pic.twitter.com/sw2rEuCNBY
— Bill Cash (@BillCashMP) April 11, 2019
Former Brexit secretary David Davis told the BBC: “The pressure on her to go will increase dramatically, I suspect, now.”
Hard Brexiteer MP and former Conservative party leader Ian Duncan Smith said: “Given this latest acceptance of an Article 50 delay, she has to name a date for her departure now.”
Last night EU leaders offered Theresa May a Halloween deadline date to get her withdrawal deal passed with less than 48 hours to go until Brexit was due to happen.
The extension means Britain is likely to take part in May’s EU elections – unless a deal is agreed by Parliament before then.
Addressing the press shortly before 2am, Mrs May said that she still wanted the UK to leave the EU “as soon as possible”.
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.”
“I do not pretend the next few weeks will be easy or that there is a simple way to break the deadlock in Parliament,” said Mrs May.
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In an early-hours press conference, 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.”
Early exit or fourth extension?
The six-month extension was a compromise solution thrashed out in five hours of talks in Mrs May’s absence, after French President Emmanuel Macron held out against a longer extension lasting into 2020.
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.
But asked whether a further extension might be possible, Mr Tusk replied: “Our intention is to finalise the whole process in October… but I am too old to exclude another scenario. I think still everything is possible.”