Brexit: UK will hold EU elections if deal not passed soon, May says
UK prime minister also tells EU leaders talks with Labour have been making progress
UK prime minister Theresa May hopes parliament will approve her deal within the next few weeks. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters
Theresa May told EU leaders she was confident MPs could ratify the withdrawal agreement within the next few weeks, so that the UK could avoid participating in European Parliament elections next month. But senior diplomatic sources said the UK prime minister told an emergency meeting of the European Council that she would go ahead with the elections if the Brexit deal was not approved in time.
Sources said she told the other leaders that her government’s talks with Labour on finding a common approach to Brexit were constructive and were making progress. Mrs May spent a little more than an hour making a statement and answering questions from other EU leaders before withdrawing while they discussed her request for an extension.
Speaking as she arrived at the meeting, Mrs May played down the significance of the length of any extension and blamed MPs’ failure to approve the withdrawal agreement for the delay to Brexit.
“I’ve been clear that the UK’s request is for an extension until June 30th and I have been working to ensure that we can leave the European Union. Indeed, we could have left the European Union by now but parliament didn’t pass the withdrawal agreement.
“So we need that extra time to work to ensure that we can get a deal through parliament that enables us to leave in a smooth and orderly way. That’s in everybody’s interest. I think what matters is that we’re able to leave the European Union at the point at which we ratify that withdrawal agreement. That would enable us to leave on May 22nd,” she said.
MPs have rejected the Brexit deal three times but Mrs May said as she arrived in Brussels that she still hopes parliament will approve it within the next few weeks so the UK can leave the EU before having to contest European Parliament elections on May 23rd.
“I know many people will be frustrated that the summit is taking place at all because the UK should have left the EU by now. And I greatly regret the fact that parliament has not been able to pass the deal that would enable us to leave in a smooth and orderly way. I and the government continue to work to find a way forward. We’ve been talking with the opposition. Those have been serious and constructive talks and they will continue tomorrow. The purpose of this summit is to agree an extension that gives us more time to agree a deal to enable us to leave the EU in a smooth and orderly way,” she said.
“I’ve asked for an extension to the 30th of June, but what is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point at which we ratify the withdrawal agreement. So we could leave on May 22nd and start to build our brighter future.”
During prime minister’s questions at Westminster on Wednesday, Mrs May faced hostile questions from Conservative Brexiteers, who called on her to abandon her request for an extension. The prime minister will make a statement to MPs on Thursday, when she will report on the outcome of the summit.