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Tue, 19 January 2021

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MPs back Brexit delay bill as Theresa May heads to Berlin to plead for more time

MPs back Brexit delay bill as Theresa May heads to Berlin to plead for more time
3 min read

A bill forcing Theresa May to ask the European Union for a Brexit delay has been signed into law as she heads to Berlin and Paris to plead for more time.

The Queen granted Royal Assent on Monday night to a cross-party push compelling the Prime Minister to seek an extension to Article 50 to avoid no-deal exit.

MPs will now debate and vote on Mrs May's bid to delay Brexit until 30 June - three months later than originally planned.

It comes as Mrs May heads to the German and French capitals for talks with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron ahead of Wednesday's emergency European Council summit, when EU leaders will pass judgement on her latest plea for a delay.

They are expected to demand that Britain loses its say in future EU budget and trade talks in return for granting Mrs May's request.

The Times reports that the Prime Minister - who will also visit Paris to meet French president Emanuel Macron - will also be told that Britain must agree not to block or disrupt any EU decisions during the extension.

They will also make clear that Brussels is not prepared to reopen talks on any deal agreed by the UK parliament - a move that would effectively bind the hands of any Conservative eurosceptic who succeeds Mrs May.

Leading Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg last week called for the UK to make life "as difficult as possible" for the EU if "a long extension leaves us stuck" in the bloc.

But a senior EU official told the paper: "If there is a wild Brexiter as a new Tory PM, they would be able to do nothing until after March 31, 2020, unless they subscribe to the withdrawal agreement."

Mrs May has requested that the UK be allowed to leave the EU on 22 May if a Brexit deal can be ratified by the Commons by then - thereby removing the need to take part in the European Parliament elections.

But a draft EU memo drawn up ahead of Wednesday's summit seen by BuzzFeed News says that the bloc will only consider granting that if MPs get behind a Brexit deal by the end of this week.

If not, European leaders will be asked to consider granting a nine or twelve-month extension - potentially delaying Britain's exit until 21 March, 2020.

Mrs May's last minute dash to the two European capitals comes as MPs prepare to debate and vote on a Government motion formally setting out Mrs May's plan to postpone Brexit to 30 June.

The motion was forced on the Prime Minister after MPs and peers rushed the cross-party European Union (Withdrawal) (No 5) Act through both the Commons and Lords, ordering the Prime Minister to set out how she aims to avoid a no-deal Brexit and give MPs a vote on any delay.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who has led the move, said the new law would avert a "chaotic" no-deal Brexit on Friday, when Britain is slated to leave the EU.

"The Bill allows Parliament to give legal underpinning to the commitments the Prime Minister has now made to avoid No Deal on Friday and helps prevent those commitments being derailed," she said.

"We are in this difficult situation because the Prime Minister left things until so late in the day and we should be honest that none of this is ideal. The Bill helps avoid the worst outcome on Friday, but the Prime Minister still needs to build consensus around a workable way forward."

The Government's motion reads: "That this House agrees for the purposes of section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 to the Prime Minister seeking an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to a period ending on 30 June 2019."


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