Tory hardliners warn that extension could be plot to stop Brexit

Mays says if MPs reject deal, they can vote on no deal and on extending article 50

British prime minister Theresa May has promised to give MPs a vote on extending Brexit negotiations or withdrawing from the EU without a deal if her plan is rejected next month.

Conservative Brexiteers warned last night of a plot to block Brexit after Theresa May opened the way for Britain’s departure from the European Union to be delayed if her withdrawal deal is rejected next month.

The prime minister told MPs that if they rejected the deal, they would have separate votes on leaving the EU without a deal and on whether to extend the article 50 negotiating deadline beyond March 29th.

She said any delay should be as short as possible and should not last more than three months so that the UK would not have to hold European Parliament elections in May. But Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative Brexiteers, warned that any postponement could undermine democracy.

“If it’s being delayed, which is my suspicion, as a plot to stop Brexit altogether, then I think that would be the most grievous error that politicians could commit. It would be overthrowing a referendum result, two general elections – one to call for the referendum, one to endorse the referendum – and would undermine our democracy,” he said.


Mrs May’s decision to give MPs an opportunity to delay Brexit came after a number of ministers threatened to resign if she failed to rule out a no-deal Brexit on March 29th. Her promise was enough to persuade Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Conservative Oliver Letwin to drop an amendment due to be voted on today that would have allowed MPs to compel a delay.

Dublin optimism

Senior Government sources in Dublin are optimistic that Labour’s decision to back a second referendum, allied to Mrs May’s move, increase the chances of the withdrawal agreement being passed next month. Some senior figures, however, acknowledge that Mrs May will need legal assurances and perhaps minor changes to the backstop if she is to win over the DUP and Conservative Brexiteers.

While the Government will not agree to major changes to backstop such as a time-limit or a provision for unilateral exit, Dublin realises some tweaking could unlock approval for the agreement in London.

“Our goal is to see a deal agreed. Short of the UK deciding to stay in the European Union, it’s the best outcome for Ireland,” a Government spokesman said.

“In the absence of that, we are open to an extension of the article 50 deadline in order to avoid a crash out on March 29th. But we will still need to reach an agreement, whether or not an extension is in place.”

North-South trade

The spokesman declined to say whether an addendum to the agreement to clarify or tweak the backstop would amount to changing the withdrawal treaty – something Ireland and the EU have consistently said they would not agree to.

The British government will shortly publish its plans for temporary arrangements to cover trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic in the case of a no-deal Brexit, according to a document it published yesterday on its impact on business.

The document repeats the commitment to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, adding that the government “will shortly publish further details of the immediate, temporary arrangements for trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland in a no-deal scenario”. It adds that it will need to work with the EU and the Irish Government “ to find any sustainable longer-term solution” on the Border issue.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Cliff Taylor

Cliff Taylor

Cliff Taylor is an Irish Times writer and Managing Editor