Pressure on Brexiteers as Donald Tusk says EU ready to offer Britain a 'long' delay
The European Union is open to a "long" delay to Brexit to let Britain "rethink" its strategy, Donald Tusk has said.
The European Council president's comments come just hours before MPs vote on whether or not to order Theresa May to ask for an Article 50 extension after rejecting a no-deal Brexit in chaotic Commons scenes.
Mr Tusk: "During my consultations ahead of European Council, I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it."
The intervention could heap pressure on Conservative Brexiteers to swallow their objections and back Mrs May's deal to avoid delaying Brexit.
Any request to extend the Article 50 process would need the unanimous backing of the bloc's 27 member states.
But key Brussels figures have hinted that they will only accept a delay to Brexit if the UK can produce a clear strategy to break the current parliamentary deadlock.
Chancellor Philip Hammond on Thursday urged rebel Conservative MPs to get on board with the agreement or risk either a long delay or a softer form of Brexit at the hands of Parliament.
"For some of my colleagues who voted against the Prime Minister’s deal, that will be an extremely challenging place for us to be," he told the BBC.
The Cabinet minister meanwhile told Sky News: "I understand why they may not find the prime minister’s deal perfectly in line with their view of the optimum future relationship.
"But it is clear the House of Commons has to find a consensus around something.
"And if it isn’t the Prime Minister’s deal, I think it will be something that is much less to the taste of those on the hard Brexit wing of my party."
MAY: DELAY 'NOT THE RIGHT OUTCOME'
MPs last night voted to reject a no-deal outcome, although leaving without an agreement remains the legal default option if they do not back Mrs May's deal or push for an extension.
Today's motion says that unless the Withdrawal Agreement - which has already been rejected twice by the Commons - is passed by 20 March, "the Government will seek to agree with the European Union a one-off extension of the period specified in Article 50 for a period ending on 30 June 2019".
It also warns MPs that it is "highly likely" the EU will demand a longer Brexit delay if they do not get behind Mrs May's deal - potentially dragging the UK into fresh elections to the European Parliament.
Addressing the Commons on Wednesday night, the Prime Minister said: "Such an extension would undoubtedly require the UK to hold EU Parliament elections in May 2019.
"I do not think that would be the right outcome, but the House needs to face up to the consequences of the decisions it has taken."