Emily Thornberry calls for ‘sensible’ Article 50 extension to avoid no-deal Brexit

Posted On: 
6th February 2019

Extending Article 50 is now the only “sensible” option to give the UK enough time to reach a Brexit deal with the EU, Emily Thornberry has said.

Emily Thornberry made the comments during a PMQs dust-up with Cabinet secretary David Lidington

The Shadow Foreign Secretary said Theresa May’s failure to secure a deal which has the backing of MPs had made a temporary delay on the UK’s exit from the EU necessary.

Her comments, which she made as she stood in for Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister's Questions, are the first time a senior Labour figure has openly proposed postponing Brexit.

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Ms Thornberry said: "The sensible, cautious thing to do at this late stage is to seek a temporary extension of Article 50 so we have time to see if the negotiations succeed or, if they do not, to pursue a different plan."

Ms Thornberry also accused the government of “treading water” on Brexit as she blasted the Prime Minister ahead of talks with EU leaders set to begin tomorrow.

“None of them have given us any encouragement that they are willing to reopen the withdrawal agreement unless the Prime Minister is willing to reconsider the red lines on which the agreement is based,” she said.

In response, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington - Theresa May's de facto deputy - said any delay would only “defer” the need for Labour to “face up to some difficult decisions” about the kind of Brexit deal they would like to see.

Several senior Tory ministers, including International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, have said they could stomach a short extension to Article 50 only if extra time was required to pass legislation necessary to secure a deal.

But Number 10 have repeatedly refused to countenance any suggestion of a delay, insisting that Theresa May would deliver Brexit “on time”.

Ms Thornberry’s remarks came just moments after European Council boss Donald Tusk claimed the EU would refuse to make “any new offer” to the UK on the controversial Irish backstop as he revealed that European officials were preparing for the “possibly fiasco” of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Tusk added: “The position of the EU27 is clear, as expressed in the documents agreed with the UK Government – that is the Withdrawal Agreement and the political declaration.”