The turmoil has been triggered by two crushing Commons defeats for her withdrawal plans – Nigel Morris, i News
British Prime Minister Theresa May has admitted the country faces a political crisis as she prepares to ask the European Union to allow Britain to delay Brexit.
She will deliver her plea for extra time ahead of a Brussels summit on Thursday at which EU leaders are expected to spell out their exasperation over the chaos surrounding Brexit. The turmoil has been triggered by two crushing Commons defeats for her withdrawal plans and her continuing failure to win over Tory Eurosceptics and DUP MPs to supporting her Brexit blueprint.
It has been compounded by Speaker John Bercow’s warning that she cannot make a third attempt to win approval for her proposals unless they are substantially rewritten.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said she told MPs last week that “we would be in crisis” if they rejected her plans. EU Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier says something new is needed if Article 50 is to be extended [Getty Images]
Referring to Mr Bercow’s surprise intervention, he added: “I think events yesterday tell you that that situation has come to pass.” Downing Street has admitted that time has run out for Britain to leave the EU on its scheduled departure date of 29 March and acknowledged the need for more time. Its preference is to hold a third “meaningful vote” next week – possibly on Thursday 28 March – followed by a short extension to pass the legislation required to pass the necessary legislation for Brexit.
Mrs May will make her case in a letter to Donald Tusk, the European Council president, to be sent on Wednesday. She is expected to call for postponement of Britain’s departure by at least three months, although reports have suggested that she could raise the prospect a far longer delay. However, Brussels warned that she will only be granted a lengthy delay if she produces a “concrete plan” for using the extra time.
The ultimatum was delivered by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. In words that appeared to open the door to a soft Brexit, second referendum or even general election, Mr Barnier said extra time would be granted for a “new event or a new political process”.
Is an extension useful?
It came as Germany, France and Ireland signalled their frustration at the latest impasse in the Brexit process. But Mr Barnier told journalists: “It is our duty to ask whether this extension would be useful because an extension will be something which would extend uncertainty and uncertainty costs.” He warned that the UK would need to propose “something new” to justify a lengthy extension, he said. It has been suggested that Mrs May could ask for a lengthy extension to Article 50, with the option of an early break in May or June if she manages to get her Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament. But Mr Barnier said it was time for the government to spell out a clear preference, adding: “it’s either one or the other, isn’t it?”
Michael Roth, Germany’s Europe minister, said EU member states were “really exhausted” by the UK’s approach to talks, warning the situation was “not just a game”. His French counterpart Nathalie Loiseau said Ms May would have to present “something new” that did not just result in an extension of “the same deadlock”. Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, said Britain would need to provide a “very persuasive plan” to accompany its request for a delay to Brexit. He added: “It’s also been very clear that there is absolutely no appetite to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement or the detail of that.”