May asks for Brexit extension to 30 June as Tusk offers up to a year
Theresa May has written to Donald Tusk to ask for Brexit to be delayed until 30 June while she battles to win cross-party agreement on a way forward.
Rather than the year-long flexible extension to article 50 recommended by the European council president, the prime minister suggested 30 June as the new departure date, but with an option to leave earlier if the necessary legislation has been passed.
That is the same date requested by the government last month but rejected by EU leaders in Brussels. Unless a new date is signed off at an emergency EU summit on Wednesday, Britain is due to leave without a deal on 12 April.
In the letter, drafted after a second day of talks with Labour, May said both parties accepted the need to pass the legally binding withdrawal agreement but had not reached consensus on the future relationship.
If that was not possible, May said, she hoped to agree with Labour a process for parliament to choose between possible options, the outcome of which both sides would promise to accept.
That could allow parliament to ratify the deal, pass the necessary legislation and leave before 22 May, meaning the UK would avoid participating in European parliament elections, the prime minister added.
But she conceded the government would be “under a legal obligation” to hold those elections if it had not left in time.
“The government will want to agree a timetable for ratification that allows the United Kingdom to withdraw from the EU before 23 May 2019 and therefore cancel the European parliament elections, but will continue to make responsible preparations to hold the elections should this not prove possible,” she said.
Asked why May was seeking a date that had already been rejected, her spokesman said there were “different circumstances now” to when she requested 30 June before the last European summit, and that the prime minister had pledged to not seek an extension beyond that date.
Her spokesman declined to say whether May would definitely refuse any extension beyond then. He said: “She set out today that she’s seeking a date of 30 June – let’s not get ahead of that. That’s what she’s focused on achieving.”
The request for a short extension is likely to exasperate remain-supporting cabinet ministers who have urged her to seek a longer delay. But May would have faced a backlash from leavers if she had requested a longer period. In a long cabinet meeting this week, ministers made several strongly worded arguments against any extension at all.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chair of the backbench European Research Group, tweeted that if the UK were forced to remain an EU member for a longer period, it should be as obstructive as possible.
Heather Stewart and Daniel Boffey