Theresa May vows to deliver Brexit by June 30

British public fed up with political squabbling

A lone British Union Jack flag in the European Parliament, ahead of a debate on Brexit. Reuters/Vincent Kessler
A lone British Union Jack flag in the European Parliament, ahead of a debate on Brexit. Reuters/Vincent Kessler

British Prime Minister Theresa May has ruled out extending the Brexit deadline beyond June 30 and rejected the option of a second referendum.

In a speech inside Downing Street, Mrs May said there was a last chance to leave the EU by backing her deal.

“It is high time we made a decision,” she said. “So far, Parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice.”

Mrs May said she would be trying to secure support from colleagues in the Northern Irish DUP and other opposing MPs for her deal.

“Some argue that I am making the wrong choice and I should ask for a longer extension to the end of the year or beyond, to give more time for politicians to argue over the way forward," she said.

"That would mean asking you to vote in European elections, nearly three years after our country decided to leave. What kind of message would that send?"

Mrs May said that a European election campaign would not help to bring the divided country back together.

The British leader said a second referendum would go against the will of the public.

Later, Conservative MP Dominic Grieve told the BBC that he could not support Mrs May’s deal, but would support her taking her deal to a public vote.

“I recognise that a referendum isn’t an easy solution to all this but it provides clarity and it’s the only way forward," Mr Grieve said.

Earlier, Mrs May formally asked the EU to delay Brexit until June 30 after failing to get her divorce deal through Parliament, starting a new stand-off with Brussels over the end date.

The EU Commission spokesman said any extension should last up until May 23 to avoid the UK holding European elections, or if it could not be avoided a longer extension could be granted until the end of the year.

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker welcomed the request in a call with Mrs May but said her date should be altered.

However, Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said EU leaders could only agree to a Brexit delay if MPs supported Mrs May's deal next week.

"At this time, I do not foresee an extraordinary European Council,” Mr Tusk said. “However, if there is such a need, I will not hesitate to invite the members of the Council for a meeting to Brussels next week.”

A commission spokesman said: "President Juncker said to the prime minister that he thinks it’s a good idea that she sets out her thoughts to the leaders ahead of the EU Council," a spokesman said.

"However, the president has clearly warned the prime minister against including a date for the extension that will be after the European Parliament elections.

"European elections have to be held if the extension date is beyond May 23. This is the position of the commission and this is what the president informed the prime minister again."

Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Mrs May would address the nation from Downing Street on Wednesday night, before the British government officially confirmed the news.

With little more than a week before the UK is due to leave, politicians continue to feud over cancelling Brexit and the nature of the withdrawal agreement that would govern future trade ties.

In her letter Mrs May requested a short delay as she detailed her plans to launch a third attempt to push her deal through Parliament after a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

"If the motion is passed, I am confident that parliament will proceed to ratify the deal constructively," she wrote.

But she said that the timetable for legislation "is inevitably uncertain at this stage".

"I am therefore writing to inform the European Council that the UK is seeking an extension until June 30, 2019."

Mrs May has said that if Parliament does not pass her deal, she would be forced to ask for a delay beyond June 30, which would mean the UK has to take part in European elections.

Brexit supporters fear that could scupper the whole project.

"I do not believe that it would be in either of our interests for the UK to hold European parliament elections," Mrs May wrote.

Opponents of Brexit are planning to stage a mass rally in London on Saturday in a last-ditch bid to demand a new referendum that they hope will cancel the 2016 result.

Margaret Beckett, a Labour MP and former foreign secretary, called on the European states to grant a delay until the end of the year or longer to allow the vote to take place.

Ms Beckett said the government should not make the issue of another European election an "obstacle to an agreement".

"A new solution has to be found," she said.

Peter Kellner, a pollster with YouGov, revealed that 52 per cent of respondents in a new survey would backed an extension at this time.

The poll also found that staying in the EU would gain the backing of 56 per cent in a straight choice between that and a no-deal Brexit.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn will hold talks with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier hours before Mrs May's appeal to the EU in Brussels.

Mr Barnier said that Mr Corbyn's request comes at a "very, very sensitive time" that will provoke concern for Mrs May.

Updated: March 21, 2019 03:00 AM


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