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Theresa May tells MPs: 'We could have actually been outside the EU by now'

Theresa May has asked to extend Article 50 to 30 June, and EU leaders will decide today on whether to grant that.

Updated Apr 10th 2019, 12:42 PM

PRIME MINISTER THERESA May has said that she still intends to ask for an extension until 30 June today, despite suggestions of a ‘flexible’ year-long extension.

“We could have actually been outside the European Union by now,” she told the House of Commons this afternoon.

When asked by the SNP’s Ian Blackford, who said May was in her “final days as Prime Minister”, whether a second referendum had been discussed with Labour, she replied:

“My position on a second referendum has not changed, the House has rejected a second referendum two times. When we come to a deal there may be those who push that issue, but my position on this has not changed.

It is a little difficult to hear [Blackford] week after week say that the UK should stay in the EU, when Scottish Independence would have meant taking Scotland out of the European Union.

The Prime Minister answered questions from MPs since noon, and will then fly to Brussels later to formally request an extension by addressing EU leaders at 5pm.

“I believe a Conservative government will make a success of any situation,” she told the House of Commons today when asked about the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

To be able to leave in an orderly way, to be able to leave with a deal. There are members of this house that don’t want to honour the results of the referendum – I do. 

May also responding to questions by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn about the 21st anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, calling it “an important moment in Northern Irish history”. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is in Brussels today for a special meeting of the European Council, where EU leaders will decide whether to grant Theresa May another delay to the Brexit date (aka an extension to Article 50).

As it currently stands, the UK is due to leave the EU this coming Friday and still hasn’t ratified a withdrawal agreement in parliament.

A no-deal is the default position in this case, but the Prime Minister is seeking a further extension to Article 50 until 30 June in order to give herself more time to win over her opponents in the House of Commons.

Following on from his recent talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Varadkar will attend meetings with European counterparts from 2pm Irish time today.

Prime Minister's Questions Source: House of Commons

Prime Minister May also spoke with her French and German counterparts in a bid to convince them to back her extending Brexit again, after the initial leaving date of 29 March was postponed.

The formal meeting of the European Council will get under way at 5pm Irish time but the indications are that leaders will back granting the UK a further extension. 

 ‘Wouldn’t be forgiven’

Last weekend, the Taoiseach said he was confident that EU leaders would ratify an extension to Brexit.

He said that any country that vetoes it “wouldn’t be forgiven”, considering the risk of a no-deal to the economies of Ireland and the UK’s other close neighbours.

However, Varadkar also said that Ireland didn’t want to grant an extension that “just allows for more indecision”. 

This has been echoed by other EU leaders who are seen to prefer a longer extension to Brexit for the time being.

“From Ireland’s perspective, we are open to extending the deadline to allow time for these discussions to run their course and come to a conclusion,” he told the Dáil yesterday.

Above all, we want the withdrawal agreement to be ratified so that negotiations can begin on a future relationship, we I hope and expect can be a new economic partnership between the UK and the EU that is as close as can be achieved. 

The Fine Gael leader added that Ireland’s European colleagues “fully understand the challenge here” and stood with Ireland in this regard.

“The EU is a home that we have helped to build and whatever happens we will stay at its heart,” he said.

May-Corbyn talks to approve a deal

With the extension the UK has asked for, Prime Minister May has pinned her hopes on reaching a compromise with the Labour Party to finally find a way of getting her Withdrawal Agreement through parliament.

There’s been little progress here so far, as hardline Tories have expressed outrage at May reaching out to the opposition in what they fear could result in a softer Brexit.

Both the Conservatives and Labour acknowledged they wouldn’t reach an agreement ahead of today’s EU summit yesterday evening. 

“We have had further productive and wide-ranging talks this afternoon, and the parties have agreed to meet again on Thursday once European Council has concluded,” a spokesman for the UK government said.

Merkel receives May Source: DPA/PA Images

May has also been speaking to fellow EU leaders, asking Macron and Merkel yesterday to back her planned extension to 30 June.

Both leaders are said to be open to a longer extension than this, which would give more clarity and remove uncertainty with May still unable to secure a consensus at home.

In a letter to leaders ahead of tomorrow’s meeting, EU Council President Donald Tusk urged them to back the extension, but not the one Theresa May wants.

“However, our experience so far, as well as the deep divisions within the House of Commons, give us little reason to believe that the ratification process can be completed by the end of June,” he said. “In reality, granting such an extension would increase the risk of a rolling series of short extensions and emergency summits, creating new cliff-edge dates.

This is why I believe we should also discuss an alternative, longer extension… The flexibility would allow to terminate the extension automatically, as soon as both sides have ratified the withdrawal agreement.

This longer extension will allow the UK to leave “whenever it is ready”, he said. It is not clear at this stage how palatable this would prove to May’s government. 

We still don’t know when Brexit will be happening, but today could fix a new departure date for the UK to finally leave the EU. 

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Sean Murray

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