Theresa May to ask EU for 'short' Brexit delay following Cabinet backlash

Posted On: 
20th March 2019

Theresa May is to ask the EU for a Brexit delay of up to three months after Cabinet members warned her any longer could lead to the end of the Tory Party.

Theresa May will write to the EU today seeking an extension to Article 50.
PA Images

The Prime Minister will write to Brussels on Wednesday to formally ask for an extension to the Article 50 process.

Mrs May faced an angry backlash at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, with Brexiteer ministers warning they would not stand for a lengthy delay to the UK's departure from the EU.

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It is thought the Tory leader will ask Brussels for a delay which could run until 30 June at the latest.

That would rule out the possibility of the UK taking part in May's European elections. One Number 10 source told PoliticsHome: "She thinks that would do huge harm to public trust in politicians."

At a tense 90-minute Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Mrs May gave every member the opportunity to set out their views on what she should do - although she refused to reveal what her own preference was.

According to The Telegraph, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox warned Mrs May that she risked "the end of the Conservative Party" if a long delay led to Brexit being shelved altogether.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss is said to have warned that a two-year delay would "divide the party", adding: "Britain will be a barren land ruled by Jeremy Corbyn with all of us here in the gulag".

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, a leading Brexiteer, is also said to have hit out at colleagues and said she now sat in a "Remain cabinet".

But key Remain-supporting ministers in the Cabinet are said to have backed keeping open the option of a longer delay - with Home Secretary Amber Rudd saying fear of a lengthy postponement could "help get the deal through".

One Cabinet minister told The Times that Mrs May had "sat there like a nodding dog" throughout the meeting, adding: "She just absorbed everything and sent us on our way."

Another minister told PoliticsHome there was "a lot of leadership positioning going on" and added: "It's almost as if all those who want to be the next party leader come along with the soundbites they want to say and then make sure they are briefed to the media."

One source said: "We all got our say on what should happen, but as usual the Prime Minister just sat their listening without telling us what she thought herself, so we left none the wiser about what will actually happen."

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier last night warned Mrs May against asking for a short extension while seeking a longer one as a backup.

Speaking at a press conference, the top EU official said any extension must be "linked to something new, a new political event, a new political process".

He added: "If not, what would the purpose and outcome be for an extension."

"And how can we ensure at the end of a possible extension we are not back in same situation?"

MPs last week rejected Mrs May's withdrawal agreement for the second time, and voted in favour of extending the Brexit process.

The Prime Minister had been hoping to put the agreement to a third vote this week, before Commons Speaker John Bercow intervened to say the Government could not repeatedly bring the same deal back to the Commons.