Cabinet splits burst into the open over length of Brexit delay

Posted On: 
20th March 2019

Cabinet splits burst into the open today over exactly how long a Brexit delay could be.

Andrea Leadsom and Damian Hinds are on opposing sides of the Brexit debate
PA Images

Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom said it was “absolutely essential” that the UK quits the EU before the European Parliament elections at the end of May.

But Education Secretary Damian Hinds refused to rule out further delays to the Article 50 process that would end up seeing Britain stay in the bloc for much longer.

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Theresa May will write to European Council president Donald Tusk today requesting a short extension to Brexit amid deadlock in Parliament over the deal she struck with Brussels.

After a major Cabinet row yesterday, as well as outrage from Conservative backbenchers, the Prime Minister dumped the threat of a much longer delay to renegotiate her agreement.

It is unclear at the moment exactly what Mrs May will ask the EU for - leaving warring ministers from across the Brexit divide to battle over their preferred options.

Asked how long the delay should be this morning, Ms Leadsom said the end of June - which would allow the UK to avoid taking part in the Parliament elections.

“We are certainly not intending to be fielding candidates,” she told an LBC Radio phone-in. “It’s absolutely essential that we are out of the EU before the European elections.

“It would be extraordinary for the people who voted to leave the EU to find us fielding candidates for these next elections.”

But Mr Hinds, speaking almost at the same time on TalkRadio, refused to answer when pressed repeatedly about the possibility of further Brexit delays.

“Right now I can’t guarantee you exactly what is going to happen because it hasn’t been negotiated yet,” he said.

“If you had asked me three months ago what I would rule out and what I thought I could rule out the world looked a different place.”

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.

Pro-Brexit figures are said to have pushed back against a long delay, while pro-Remain minister argued more time could help see the agreed deal through Parliament.