Cabinet minister warns of 'substantial' Brexit delay if MPs reject Withdrawal Agreement
The UK will remain in the EU for a "substantial" length of time if MPs reject the central plank of Theresa May's Brexit deal, a Cabinet minister has warned.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said the Government would have no choice but to apply for a lengthy extension to Article 50 should the Withdrawal Agreement be voted down.
MPs will vote on the Brexit divorce deal on Friday, the day when the UK was originally supposed to be leaving the EU and the Brussels-imposed deadline for getting it over the line.
However, it is highly unlikely to be approved given the continued opposition of Labour, the DUP and Tory rebels.
The EU has insisted that unless the Withdrawal Agreement is passed by the Commons by tonight, a provisional Article 50 extension until 22 May will no longer automatically apply.
In those circumstances, the UK would have until 12 April to come up with an alternative plan or face leaving the EU without a deal.
Speaking on Question Time on Thursday night, Mr Hinds said: "If we don’t pass this tomorrow then we don’t have a way to leave on the 22 May, and the only way forward then would be to apply for a substantial extension."
That would inevitably mean the UK having to take part in May's European elections, something Theresa May has warned would lead to a furious backlash from voters.
A furious row erupted on Thursday when Commons leader Andrea Leadsom confirmed MPs would have to take part in an emergency five-hour sitting to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement but not the Political Declaration, which sets out the UK's future relationship with the EU.
Ms Leadsom said: "The European Union will only agree an extension until 22 May if the Withdrawal Agreement is approved this week.
"Tomorrow’s motion gives Parliament the opportunity to secure that extension. I encourage all MPs to support it and ensure that we leave the EU on 22 May, giving people and businesses the certainty they need."
Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz said: "This is the Government playing games. Parliament, our constituents, future trading partners and the country will not countenance this."
Jeremy Corbyn made clear Labour's opposition to the Withdrawal Agreement during a 20-minute phone call with Theresa May on Thursday night.
A Labour spokesperson said: "Jeremy set out Labour's opposition to the Prime Minister's last-ditch attempt to separate the Political Declaration from the Withdrawal Agreement.
“Jeremy made clear Labour will not agree a blindfold Brexit to force through Theresa May's damaging deal, which would leave the next Tory party leader free to rip up essential rights and protections and undermine jobs and living standards.”
Meanwhile, thousands of pro-Brexit campaigners will gather outside Parliament to demand the UK gets on with leaving the EU.
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage will be among those speaking at the event, which is the culmination of a Leave Means Leave march from Sunderland to Westminster.
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