Theresa May has blamed MPs for her decision to postpone Brexit, using a televised address to tell voters that she regretted having to seek a three-month extension to Britain's EU membership at a summit in Brussels on Thursday. She said MPs must choose between her Brexit deal and leaving the EU without a deal, or not leaving at all.
“It is high time we made a decision. So far parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice. Motion after motion and amendment after amendment have been tabled without parliament ever deciding what it wants. All MPs have been willing to say is what they do not want,” she said.
The UK prime minister was speaking after European Council president Donald Tusk said the EU could offer a short extension to the article 50 negotiating process on condition that MPs approve her Brexit deal next week. Mrs May will address the other 27 EU leaders at the start of today's summit in Brussels before they make a decision on extending article 50.
In a letter to Mr Tusk on Wednesday, the prime minister requested an extension until June 30th. She told MPs later that she could not consider a longer delay because that would require the UK to take part in European Parliament elections at the end of May.
“What kind of message would that send? And just how bitter and divisive would that election campaign be at a time when the country desperately needs bringing back together?” she said in her televised statement last night.
“Some have suggested holding a second referendum. I don’t believe that is what you want – and it is not what I want. We asked you the question already and you gave us your answer. Now you want us to get on with it. And that is what I am determined to do.”
Mr Tusk also said that the European Council should not have any problem ratifying the agreements made at Strasbourg last week between the EU and UK, on legal assurances about the functioning of the backstop. Mrs May said in her letter that the Strasbourg deal was important to her need to present a different version of the deal to allow it to be put to parliament again.
Mr Tusk said that the conditional extension could be approved by “written procedure” at the end of next week, so not requiring the reconvening of the summit.
But in the event the meaningful vote is not passed, it will probably be necessary to call the leaders together again next Thursday or Friday to consider any further request from Mrs May for either a short or long extension. The UK is due to leave the EU at 11pm on Friday, March 29th. Should Mrs May decide not to make a further extension request, the UK will leave on schedule on a no-deal basis.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar took a softer line to Mr Tusk, urging patience with Britain as as he warned of an accidental no-deal Brexit.
“I think it’s time now to cut them some slack – to cut the British Government some slack when it comes to their request for an extension and when it comes to their request that the Strasbourg agreement be ratified formally by the European Council over the next two days. So we’re willing to support both of those requests, but obviously we’re not entertaining any change to the withdrawal agreement or the backstop,” he said.