Theresa May has blamed MPs for failing to implement the result of the 2016 EU referendum, and told voters who want Brexit to be over: “I am on your side.”
In a televised address from Downing Street, Mrs May said that it was “a matter of great personal regret” for her to have to ask for a three-month delay to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, which was due to take place on March 29.
She will go to Brussels on Thursday to make a formal request to the other 27 EU leaders for an extension to the two-year Article 50 negotiation process.
Earlier, European Council president Donald Tusk said he believed a short delay “would be possible” after he spoke to the Prime Minister by phone.
But he said that the extension – which must be agreed unanimously by the EU27 – was likely to be conditional on Mrs May succeeding in forcing her twice-rejected Brexit deal through Parliament.
The PM made the request in a letter to Mr Tusk exactly 1,000 days after the 2016 referendum which delivered a 52%-48% majority to quit the EU.
Speaking behind a lectern in 10 Downing Street, Mrs May said that MPs – who rejected her deal by 230 votes in January and 149 last week – had been “unable to agree on a way to implement the UK’s withdrawal”.
And in a message directed at voters, she added: “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.”
The Prime Minister said MPs had so far done “everything possible” to avoid making a decision on the way forward.
She warned that an extended delay mean staging “bitter and divisive” elections to the European Parliament at a time the country needed bringing back together.
“I passionately hope MPs will find a way to back the deal I have negotiated with the EU.
“I will continue to work night and day to secure the support of my colleagues, the DUP and others for this deal. But I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than June 30.”
In his statement, Mr Tusk said it should be possible for EU leaders meeting in Brussels to approve an extension to Article 50, although the “question remains open” as to the duration.
He said it should then be possible to finalise the deal through the “written procedure” without the need for another summit – provided it secured the backing of MPs.
But after the tumultuous events of recent weeks he appeared to acknowledge the difficulties facing the Prime Minister, describing the hopes of success as “frail, even illusory”.
“Although Brexit fatigue is increasingly visible and justified, we cannot give up seeking until the very last moment a positive solution,” he said.
“We have reacted with patience and goodwill to numerous turns of events and I am confident that also now we will not lack the same patience and goodwill at this most critical point in this process.”
If the delay is approved by the EU leaders, Mrs May will rush legislation
through both Houses of Parliament next week to remove the March 29 leaving date from Brexit laws.
At a stormy session of Prime Minister’s Questions she told MPs she intended to table her Withdrawal Agreement for a third time in the Commons, in the hope of overturning massive defeats inflicted on it in January and March.
Aides declined to name a date for the third “meaningful vote” – known in
Westminster as MV3 – but said it would happen “as soon as possible”.
Earlier, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned the PM that Brexit would have to be complete before May 23 or the UK would have to take part in elections to the European Parliament.
Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn was criticised after pulling out of talks with other opposition party leaders and the Prime Minister after members of the breakaway Independent Group turned up to the meeting.
Chuka Umunna, the Independent Group spokesman, said it was “extraordinary behaviour in a national crisis” by the Labour leader.
A Labour spokesman said it was “not the meeting that had been agreed” and that they were in discussions with No 10 about a separate bilateral meeting between Mr Corbyn and Mrs May.