Prime Minister Theresa May has requested a three-month delay to Brexit, postponing the UK’s departure from the European Union from March 29 to June 30.
In a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk, Mrs May said that she did not believe it was in either the UK’s or the EU’s interests for Britain to take part in European Parliament elections in May.
She told MPs that she intends to table the Withdrawal Agreement which she has negotiated with the EU for a third time in the Commons next week, in the hope of overturning the massive defeats inflicted on it in January and March.
Brussels has made clear that any extension of the Article 50 negotiation process beyond the end of June would require the UK to elect MEPs to take their seats in the next European Parliament in July.
Mrs May told PMQs: “The idea that three years after voting to leave the EU, the people of this country should be asked to elect a new set of MEPs is, I believe, unacceptable.
“It would be a failure to deliver on the referendum decision this House said it would deliver.
“I have therefore this morning written to President Tusk… informing him that the UK seeks an extension to the Article 50 period until June 30.”
Mrs May will formally make her request to the European Council summit in Brussels on Thursday, where the unanimous approval of all 27 remaining member states is required for any extension.
In her letter to Mr Tusk, Mrs May said that it remains the Government’s policy to take the UK out of the EU “in an orderly manner” on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration agreed in November and supplemented by documents agreed with Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker last week.
The Agreement was rejected by 230 votes in January and 149 votes earlier this month.
And Commons Speaker John Bercow this week said he would not allow the same motion to be brought again during this session of Parliament, unless it was substantially changed.
But Mrs May told the Commons: “The Government intends to bring forward proposals for a third meaningful vote.
“If that vote is passed, the extension will give the House time to consider the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. If not, the House will have to decide how to proceed.
“But as Prime Minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than June 30.”
Mrs May faced shouts of “resign” from opposition MPs as she told the Commons: “(Mr Corbyn) asks about a long extension – I’m opposed to a long extension.
“I don’t want a long extension. Setting aside the issue that a long extension would mean we would have to hold the European Parliament elections – which I don’t think is in anybody’s interests – the outcome of a long extension would be endless hours and days of this House carrying on contemplating its navel on Europe and failing to address the issues that matter to our constituents.”
Mrs May went on: “This House has indulged itself on Europe for too long. It’s time for this House to determine that it will deliver on Brexit for the British people.
“That’s what the British people deserve. They deserve better than what this House has given them so far.”
Mr Corbyn replied: “To describe the parliamentary process as one of indulgence doesn’t show much respect to the democratic process that sent us here in the first place.”
Mr Corbyn said the PM had “failed to answer his question”.
He quoted the CBI, who are in favour of extending Article 50 and called on all MPs to make a compromise, asking: “Will the Prime Minister drop the red lines? Is she prepared to compromise to get through this crisis?”
Mrs May said the House has “voted on and rejected” a second referendum, no-deal, Labour’s deal, a customs union, but has “voted on and supported leaving with a deal”.
She added: “It’s time this Parliament faced the consequences.”
The full text of the letter
The UK Government’s policy remains to leave the European Union in an orderly manner on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration agreed in November, complemented by the Joint Instrument and supplement to the Political Declaration President Juncker and I agreed on 11 March.
You will be aware that before the House of Commons rejected the deal for a second time on 12 March, I warned in a speech in Grimsby that the consequences of failing to endorse the deal were unpredictable and potentially deeply unpalatable. The House of Commons did not vote in favour of the deal. The following day it voted against leaving the EU without a negotiated deal. The day after that it supported a Government motion that proposed a short extension to the Article 50 period if the House supported a meaningful vote before this week’s European Council. The motion also made clear that if this had not happened, a longer extension would oblige the UK to call elections to the European Parliament. I do not believe that it would be in either of our interests for the UK to hold European Parliament elections.
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”. Some Members of Parliament have interpreted that this means a further change to the deal. This position has made it impossible in practice to call a further vote in advance of the European Council. However, it remains my intention to bring the deal back to the House.
In advance of that vote, I would be grateful if the European Council could therefore approve the supplementary documents that President Juncker and I agreed in Strasbourg, putting the Government in a position to bring these agreements to the House and confirming the changes to the Government’s proposition to Parliament. I also intend to bring forward further domestic proposals that confirm my previous commitments to protect our internal market, given the concerns expressed about the backstop. On this basis, and in the light of the outcome of the European Council, I intend to put forward a motion as soon as possible under section 13 of the Withdrawal Act 2018 and make the argument for the orderly withdrawal and strong future partnership the UK economy, its citizens’ security and the continent’s future, demands.
If the motion is passed, I am confident that Parliament will proceed to ratify the deal constructively. But this will clearly not be completed before 29 March 2019. In our legal system, the Government will need to take a Bill through both Houses of Parliament to enact our commitments under the Withdrawal Agreement into domestic law. While we will consult with the Opposition in the usual way to plan the passage of the Bill as quickly and smoothly as possible, the timetable for this is inevitably uncertain at this stage. I am therefore writing to inform the European Council that the UK is seeking an extension to the Article 50 period under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty, until 30 June 2019.
I would be grateful for the opportunity to set out this position to our colleagues on Thursday.