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May asks EU for more time to deliver Brexit as MPs label her 'blame game' speech 'disgraceful'

EU leaders are due to consider her request at a summit in Brussels today.

t may British Prime Minister Theresa May delivering her statement last night. Source: Jonathan Brady/AP/Press Association Images

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Theresa May is due back in Brussels today in a last-ditch attempt to get EU leaders to delay Brexit.

Britain is due to officially leave the European Union on 29 March, just eight days away.

Yesterday May wrote to the EU asking to extend Article 50 until 30 June.

Other EU member states are due to consider her request at a summit in Brussels today, but a decision is not expected until next week.

A three-month extension would mean Britain doesn’t have to take part in May’s European elections; the new European Parliament is set to convene in July.

Responding to May’s request, European Council President Donald Tusk said he believes a short extension would be possible.

However, he said it would be conditional on MPs backing the Withdrawal Agreement drawn up by May’s government and the EU – a deal they have already twice rejected.

Tusk admitted that European leaders are suffering “Brexit fatigue” and said he feared his hopes may prove “frail, even illusory”.

In a televised speech last night, May hit out at MPs for not supporting her deal.

“You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with this. I agree. I am on your side,” May said, directly addressing members of the public.

Two years on, MPs have been unable to agree on a way to implement the UK’s withdrawal. As a result, we will not leave on time with a deal on 29 March. This delay is a matter of great personal regret for me.

Her speech was sharply criticised by many MPs, from across the political divide, who viewed it as an attempt to shift blame for the ongoing crisis from herself to others.

Conservative Sam Gyimah said “resorting to the blame game” was “a low blow”, while Labour’s Lisa Nandy described the speech as “disgraceful”. 

Describing her speech as “incendiary and irresponsible”, Labour MP Wes Streeting said May would be partly responsible “if any harm comes to us”, noting that MPs have been subjected “credible” death threats.

‘Constitutional crisis’

May’s appeal for an extension comes amid doubt over whether or not the House of Commons will vote on her Brexit deal for a third time.

The planned vote was thrown into doubt on Monday when John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, said the government cannot have another meaningful vote on the deal if changes are not made to it.

Solicitor General Robert Buckland has claimed the UK is facing a “major constitutional crisis” as a result.

Resignation threat? 

In her letter to the EU, May said she intends to bring her deal back to the House of Commons “as soon as possible”, arguing that if it passed, she would need the delay to implement the treaty.

If the text is rejected a third time, a deeply divided parliament will have to decide what happens next.

“As prime minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than June 30,” May told lawmakers, in comments interpreted as a hint about her own future.

As the crisis rumbles on, a number of opponents are said to be eyeing up May’s job. Former Foreign Secretary and Brexiteer Boris Johnson is one of the frontrunners – something that could further split the Tories, with some MPs vowing to quit if he becomes leader, according to the Guardian.

May’s team is trying to engage senior members of the opposition, hoping to bring enough members on side to pull her deal through, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will also be in Brussels on Thursday for talks with EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

The pound fell sharply against the euro during yesterday – exactly 1,000 days on from the seismic 2016 Brexit referendum — reflecting fears that Britain could crash out of the EU without any agreement at all.

‘Credibility’ 

May yesterday said any postponement beyond the end of June would undermine voters’ trust. “It is high time we made a decision,” May said in her TV address.

Meanwhile, the European Commission advised EU leaders that it would be preferable to either have a shorter delay to 23 May — when voting begins in European Parliament elections — or a much longer one, until at least the end of 2019.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed London’s “clear request” and said she would “make every effort” to bring about an agreement at the Brussels summit.

But her foreign minister Heiko Maas, of the junior coalition partner Social Democrats, said May’s letter “only pushes the solution further down the road”.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had a tough message.

“A situation in which Mrs May is unable to deliver sufficient guarantees on the credibility of her strategy at the European Council meeting would lead to the request being refused and a preference for a no deal,” he told parliament.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2019  

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Órla Ryan

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