Theresa May says Brexit extension needed to avoid no-deal departure
‘We will meet the prime minister’: Jeremy Corbyn accepts May’s offer to hold talks
British prime minister Theresa May has said she aims to ask for a further extension to the Brexit process to allow the UK to leave the European Union “in a timely and orderly way”.
Mrs May offered to hold talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to agree a plan acceptable to both, which can be put to the House of Commons ahead of the April 10th summit of the European Council.
The Labour leader said he would be “very happy” to meet the prime minister in a bid to offer “certainty and security” to the British people.
Speaking in 10 Downing Street after a marathon session of Cabinet lasting more than seven hours, Mrs May said any further delay to Brexit should be “as short as possible”.
She said a Bill to pave the way for departure would have to be in place by May 22nd to ensure the UK did not have to take part in European Parliament elections.
Any new proposal would have to accept the Withdrawal Agreement — including its controversial backstop arrangement — and focus on amendments to the Political Declaration on the future EU/UK relationship, she said.
Setting out her plan for talks with Mr Corbyn, Mrs May said: “The ideal outcome of this process would be to agree an approach on a future relationship that delivers on the result of the referendum, that both the leader of the Opposition and I could put to the House for approval and which I could then take to next week’s European Council.
“However, if we cannot agree on the single unified approach, then we would instead agree a number of options for the future relationship that we could put to the House in a series of votes to determine which course to pursue.
“Crucially, the Government stands ready to abide by the decision of the House. But to make this process work, the opposition would need to agree to this too.”
She added: “This is a decisive moment in the story of these islands and it will require national unity to deliver the national interest.”
In response to the offer to hold talks, Mr Corbyn said: “We will meet the prime minister.”
He said: “We recognise that she has made a move, I recognise my responsibility to represent the people that supported Labour in the last election and the people who didn’t support Labour but nevertheless want certainty and security for their own future and that’s the basis on which we will meet her and we will have those discussions.”
Mr Corbyn said he would not set any “limits” ahead of the meeting, but that his principles ahead of it were to recognise the “needs of the people that elected all MPs to parliament and the need to avoid the dangers of crashing out”.
He also warned that Labour would “hold in reserve” the option of tabling a confidence motion in the Government if it “proves it is incapable of commanding a majority in the House of Commons”.
Ministers began their Cabinet meeting at 9.30am, initially sitting in “political” session in the absence of civil servants. The meeting finally wound up shortly before 5pm, but ministers were held inside without access to their mobile phones while Mrs May prepared her statement.
In an instant response to the statement, European Council president Donald Tusk tweeted: “Even if, after today, we don’t know what the end result will be, let us be patient. #Brexit.”
Mrs May’s statement came after warnings from EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier that a no-deal departure on the deadline of April 12th was becoming “day after day more likely”.
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg responded to Mrs May’s statement by warning the prime minister that people did not vote for a Corbyn-May coalition.
European Research Group (ERG) chairman Mr Rees-Mogg criticised Mrs May for planning to collaborate with “a known Marxist” in Mr Corbyn.
The Conservative MP for North East Somerset said the move would lose Tory votes, and warned history did not show success for political leaders who tried to get policy through the Commons “on the back of Opposition votes”.
Speaking after a meeting about Theresa May’s latest statement, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “I think getting the support of a known Marxist is not likely to instil confidence in Conservatives.
“This approach to Government is an unsuccessful one and it also lacks democratic legitimacy.
“People did not vote for a Corbyn-May coalition Government — they voted for a Conservative Government, which became a confidence and supply with the DUP.
“This is a deeply unsatisfactory approach — it’s not in the interests of the country, it fails to deliver on the referendum result and history doesn’t bode well for it.”
Mr Rees-Mogg claimed to still support Mrs May as leader and, although he “didn’t whoop and holler with delight”, neither did he expect “a glorious outcome” from the prime minister’s statement.
He said he had been willing to accept a “second-rate” Brexit rather than to hold out for something “perfect” and end up with no Brexit.
When asked if he could back a deal struck with Mr Corbyn, he told journalists: “Well, I wouldn’t hold your breath — I’m not a Marxist in case you hadn’t noticed.–PA