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March 21, 2019

May asks EU to delay Brexit for three months

Top Story

March 21, 2019

LONDON: 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 exactly 1,000 days after the 2016 referendum resulted in the vote to leave the EU, May said 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 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.

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.”

May will formally make her request to the European Council summit in Brussels on Thursday (today), where the unanimous approval of all 27 remaining member states is required for any extension.

In her letter to Tusk, May said 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. 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 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.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “running down the clock” on Brexit. He told the Commons: “This government has led the country and themselves into crisis, chaos and division.

“We are still legally due to leave the European Union in nine days’ time. Months of running down the clock and a concerted campaign of blackmail, bullying and bribery has failed to convince the House or the country that her deal is anything but a damaging national failure and should be rejected.

“If the Prime Minister cannot get changes to her deal, will she give the people a chance to reject the deal and change the government?”In her letter to Tusk, May said Bercow’s demand for a fundamental change to her motion had made it “impossible” to hold a third meaningful vote ahead of Thursday’s Brussels summit.

But she indicated she believes it is possible to satisfy the Speaker’s requirements by ensuring the European Council formally approves the documents agreed last week with Juncker in Strasbourg.

She said she is also intending to bring forward domestic proposals to confirm previous commitments to protect the UK’s internal market, in response to concerns that the controversial backstop might drive a wedge between Northern Ireland and Britain.

May said the meaningful vote — known in Westminster as MV3 — would be held “as soon as possible”. But she added that even if the agreement is approved by MPs next week, ratification will “clearly not be completed” by the scheduled date of Brexit on March 29 and she is therefore asking for an extension to June 30.

A European Commission spokesman said Juncker received a phone call from May shortly before her announcement in the Commons. “She informed him of the latest state of play around the Article 50 process and consulted the president on how best to approach the European Council,” he said. “Discussions are ongoing.”

The spokesman added that “nearly all foreseen contingency measures are approved” for a no-deal scenario, with only the issues of short-term visas and the EU budget for 2019 still outstanding.

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