Theresa May has told the nation that the Brexit delay “is a matter of personal regret” as she urged MPs and the country to get behind her withdrawal deal.
Speaking inside Downing Street, the PM dismissed calls to extend the delay past June 30 and put pressure on MPs to vote for her deal or face uncertainty over what happened next.
Mrs May said the public wanted politicians to “get on with it” and finished by saying: “That is what I am determined to do.”
She blamed MPs for failing to agree a means to implement the result of the 2016 referendum and said she believes voters just want this stage of the Brexit process to be over. And she told voters: “I am on your side.”
Mrs May said: “Of this, I am absolutely sure: You the public have had enough. You are tired of the infighting, you’re tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows, tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns about our children’s schools, our National Health Service, knife crime.
“You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side. It is now time for MPs to decide.”
European Council president Donald Tusk earlier said a “short extension” to Article 50 should be possible “conditional” upon a positive vote in the UK Parliament.
Mr Tusk was responding to a request from Mrs May for a three-month delay to Brexit, postponing the UK’s departure from the European Union from March 29 to June 30.
The PM made the request in a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk exactly 1,000 days after the 2016 referendum which delivered a 52%-48% majority to quit the EU.
Mr Tusk, speaking in Brussels, said: “In the light of the consultations that I have conducted over the past days, I believe that a short extension would be possible.
“But it would be conditional on a positive vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons.
“The question remains open as to the duration of such an extension.”
Mrs May sparked speculation that she may step down if either MPs or Europe demand a longer extension to the Article 50 negotiation process, declaring: “As Prime Minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than June 30.”
After Mr Tusk approved, in principle, the delay at a summit on Thursday, Mrs May is now expected to rush legislation through both Houses of Parliament next week to remove the date March 29 from Brexit laws.
Mr Tusk added: “At this time, I do not foresee an extraordinary European Council.
“If the leaders approve my recommendations and there is a positive vote in the House of Commons next week, we can finalise and formalise the decision on extension in the written procedure.
“However, if there is such a need, I will not hesitate to invite the members of the European Council for a meeting to Brussels next week.”
The Prime Minister announced on Wednesday afternoon she is seeking the short delay to leaving the EU to ensure Britain does not take part in the upcoming European elections.
In the letter to European Council president Donald Tusk, Mrs May wrote: “I had intended to bring the vote back to the House of Commons this week.
“The Speaker of the House of Commons said on Monday that in order for a further meaningful vote to be brought back to the House of Commons, the agreement would have to be ‘fundamentally different-not different in terms of wording, but different in terms of substance’.”
Mrs May told MPs on Wednesday that she still intended to bring her much-derided divorce deal back to Parliament for a third time – following to heavy defeats.
But, she said, “as Prime Minister I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than June 30″.
If Mrs May was hoping for a sympathetic hearing from EU leaders, she will have been bitterly disappointed.
Within minutes of the announcement, a French government spokesperson said the PM needed to provide clear reasons for the delay, which would not be automatically guaranteed.
Elsewhere, a senior member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives said Mrs May’s request lacked meaning without the support of parliament and the EU should not decide on it before this becomes clear.
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“May just asked #EU for short #Brexit extension. But without backing by cabinet and parliament her request is meaningless,” German conservative Norbert Roettgen, said on Twitter on Wednesday.
And to emphasis how complicated a short delay will be to push through, Reuters news agency has obtained a leaked document which reveals Brussels are only prepared to consider an extension until May 22. If not, Brexit must be delayed at least until the end of the year.
All this follows comments by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier yesterday in which warned that Brussels will want a good reason to grant a long delay to Brexit, saying a lengthy extension “needs to be linked to something new… a new event or a new political process”.
The PM’s move comes after tempers flared between Brexit and Remain ministers during a heated Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
And it was no better in Parliament with many MPs outraged at the request.
Tory Brexiteer Peter Bone warned Theresa May she will be “betraying” the public if she continues to seek to delay Brexit.
“If you continue to apply for an extension to Article 50 you will be betraying the British people. If you don’t, you will be honouring their instruction,” he told her during PMQs.
“Prime Minister, it is entirely down to you. History will judge you at this moment. Prime Minister, which is it to be?”
Senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper said: “Truly shocking. This is a Prime Minister in the worst state of denial, refusing to listen to anyone, just still doing the same thing again and again, no plan B, heading stubbornly towards the cliff edge.”
Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron claimed Parliament is “dancing to the tune of extremists” rather than listening to ordinary people.
The ball is also now in the EU’s court to agree to any extension.
Any request for extra time is subject to unanimous approval by leaders of the remaining 27 EU states at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday.
If the EU agrees an extension, MPs and peers will have to pass a statutory instrument within days to remove the date of March 29 from Brexit legislation.
The PM said she “shared the frustrations” of voters (Getty)European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has suggested an agreement on any extension to Article 50 might not be reached at this week’s European Council summit, and that EU leaders might have to meet again next week to finalise it.
The development comes exactly 1,000 days after the referendum of June 23 2016, which delivered a 52%-48% majority for leaving the EU.
It will dismay hardline Leavers still hoping for a no-deal “clean Brexit” next Friday.
Talks are expected to continue with the DUP ahead of any vote in the hope of overturning its defeat by a margin of 149 last week.
But it is understood that the Government is still far from any agreement with the Northern Irish party that would allow its 10 MPs to back the PM’s deal.
Jeremy Corbyn indicated that he sees Monday as the point for Labour to mount a challenge to the Government’s approach.
Speaking after talks with other opposition parties and Labour backbenchers on the way forward, Mr Corbyn said: “The reality is that this Government has lost its authority, doesn’t enjoy the confidence of the House, can’t get anything through.
“Surely that is the time to step aside and let the people decide in a people’s vote that’s called a general election.”