Another YEAR in limbo! May faces the prospect of a long Brexit delay

Another YEAR in limbo! May faces humiliating prospect of long Brexit delay as she prepares to fly to Brussels to learn Britain’s fate

  • Theresa May flies to Brussels tomorrow to ask for delay only until end of June
  • But Donald Tusk has urged his fellow leaders to impose a year-long delay
  • Sources said the PM was resigned to longer period if EU leaders demanded it

Theresa May flies to Brussels tomorrow to ask for a delay only until the end of June. She is pictured in Paris today 

Britain was last night facing the prospect of another year in the EU.

Theresa May flies to Brussels tomorrow to ask for a delay only until the end of June.

But Donald Tusk has urged fellow leaders to impose a year-long delay to ‘allow the UK to rethink its Brexit strategy’. The EU president warned tough conditions would be attached to any extended postponement.

And he said the stalled withdrawal agreement would not be unpicked under any circumstances, including the election of a new Tory leader. The Prime Minister is asking for a short delay to try to get the agreement through Parliament, possibly in a compromise deal with Labour.

But government sources said she was now resigned to a longer period if EU leaders demanded it.

She had insisted she could not countenance putting off Britain’s departure beyond June 30. The Prime Minister faced a major Commons revolt last night, with 97 Tory MPs voting against any delay to the April 12 leaving date. Almost 80 more abstained, including a string of ministers.

Tory MP Anne Main said the delay request – the second in a month – was making the UK a ‘laughing stock’.

Downing Street indicated that Mrs Merkel had agreed to an extension of Article 50 in order to ensure ‘Britain’s orderly withdrawal’. Mrs May is pictured meeting her today  

As Downing Street indicated that Mrs May wanted to stay on as long as it took to see the first stage of Brexit through:

  • The Prime Minister travelled to Berlin and Paris to ask for a short delay;
  • Chancellor Philip Hammond joined cross-party talks with Labour on a possible soft Brexit deal;
  • No 10 was braced for a possible mass walkout of ministers if the Prime Minister accepted a long delay;
  • Tory hardliner Mark Francois urged the EU to kick Britain out without a deal or face ‘perfidious Albion on speed’.

Labour backed the Brexit day delay, helping it pass by 420 votes to 110. But just 131 Tory MPs supported the PM’s plan – 40 per cent of the parliamentary party.

Cabinet ministers Andrea Leadsom and Liam Fox, who both abstained, both publicly questioned the PM’s tactics.

Mrs Leadsom urged her to ask German chancellor Angela Merkel to reopen the withdrawal agreement – despite the EU repeatedly ruling this out. Dr Fox hit out at suggestions Mrs May could agree to keep Britain in a customs union as part of a compromise with Labour.

Solicitor general Robert Buckland told MPs the UK would be legally required to take part in European Parliament elections if it was a member state on May 23.

Mrs May met Emmanuel Macron today at the Elysee Palace in Paris for talks on Britain’s withdrawal

But he suggested British MEPs might not have to take their seats if Westminster agreed an exit plan in the coming weeks.

Downing Street indicated that Mrs Merkel had agreed to an extension of Article 50 in order to ensure ‘Britain’s orderly withdrawal’.

But there is the risk that French president Emmanuel Macron, who has questioned the point of further delay, could veto it or impose onerous conditions at a summit in Brussels tomorrow night.

Mrs May can refuse the EU’s offer of a long delay. But ministers fear MPs could vote to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit altogether unless a delay is agreed this evening. At a meeting of EU ministers in Luxembourg yesterday the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said a short extension was realistic because Mrs May had a plan to break the impasse.

But according to two diplomatic notes seen by the Mail, there was a ‘growing trend’ and ‘convergence of opinions’ toward a date much later than June 30.

Sources suggested that EU leaders are now set to extend Article 50 until at least the end of this year.

Tory: I might vote Farage 

A Brexiteer Tory MP has suggested she might vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the European elections.

Anne Marie Morris, who is in the European Research Group, was speaking to fellow Eurosceptics when she was asked about voting for a Brexit Party candidate.

She said: ‘I would prefer somebody on the Brexit side… [but] I sincerely hope [the Tories] will put forward somebody of that orientation so let me see the runners and riders and then I can tell you.’ 

Mr Tusk last night told EU leaders there was little reason to believe that Mrs May would be able to get an agreement through Parliament by July.

‘Granting such an extension would increase the risk of a rolling series of short extensions and emergency summits, creating new cliff-edge dates,’ he said.

He urged EU leaders to agree a ‘flexible extension’ that would allow the UK to leave early if it could ratify a deal. But he added: ‘In the event of a continued stalemate, a longer extension would allow the UK to rethink its Brexit strategy.’

EU leaders have been spooked by warnings from Brexit hardliners, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, that the UK could deploy wrecking tactics if it remained in the EU, such as voting down its budget.

Mr Tusk said the UK would be expected to guarantee it would work in a spirit of ‘sincere co-operation’.

Tory Eurosceptic Anne-Marie Morris warned she could vote for Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party in the European Parliament elections in protest at the delay.

And Boris Johnson’s father Stanley revealed he hopes to stand as a candidate on May 23, almost three years after Britain voted to leave.  

Donald Tusk (seen in Brussels today) has urged fellow leaders to impose a year-long delay to ‘allow the UK to rethink its Brexit strategy’

Where’s Angela? Awkward moment May walked up the red carpet alone after Merkel failed to greet her  

There was an awkward moment for Theresa May as she arrived at the German Chancellery for talks with Angela Merkel – who failed to greet her.

Mrs Merkel traditionally meets important guests on the red carpet, but the Prime Minister was forced to walk down alone before entering the building.

The two leaders then re-emerged to shake hands for the cameras before disappearing again inside. 

Mrs Merkel traditionally meets important guests on the red carpet, but the Prime Minister was forced to walk down alone before entering the building

A body language expert yesterday suggested that the two leaders were at odds over a Brexit extension.

Mrs May’s hand clasp resembled a ‘begging gesture’ while both women cut ‘grim’ expressions.

Judi James said: ‘It’s the huge spatial gap between these two women that gives the suggestion of further separation rather than unity.

‘Merkel in particular tends to keep both her allies and her enemies close but this pose suggests some desire to end the conversation.’

It was a different scene when Mrs May later headed to Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron, who greeted her with a hug and kisses on both cheeks. 

The two leaders talk together on the terrace of the Chancellery in Berlin today 

Tories’ open revolt over delay: Almost 100 of them vote against move to put EU departure off to June 30 

By John Stevens and Jack Doyle

Boris Johnson (pictured outside Parliament on April 8) was among Tories to vote against the motion to delay Brexit to June 30 

Theresa May faced a mass rebellion by Tory MPs last night on a motion to delay Brexit to June 30 amid claims the UK was being turned into a ‘laughing stock’.

Ninety-seven backbench Tories voted against the motion, including former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

And it came as the Prime Minister also faced open revolt in the Cabinet with ministers Andrea Leadsom and Liam Fox publicly challenging her Brexit strategy.

In the Commons, and despite a three-line whip, almost 80 Tories were absent including several ministers, leaving just 131 to vote in favour of the motion.

No10 said there would be no disciplining of MPs who did not follow the party line. The Commons approved the motion on the extension request by 420 votes to 110, a majority of 310.

Former education minister Tim Loughton attacked ‘saboteurs’ on both sides for trying to ‘hamstring’ the Prime Minister.

New Brexit vote ‘within days’ if Labour agree deal  

Brexit legislation could be brought back to the Commons in days if the Government can reach a deal with Labour, ministers said last night.

Two Cabinet sources told the Mail discussions were under way about the possibility of asking MPs to vote this week on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in the hope of still leaving the EU next month.

Ministers have also reserved the right to shorten the Easter break by asking MPs to sit on Monday and Tuesday next week if a deal looks close. Under one proposal, the Government would agree to allow free votes on key Labour demands, such as a customs union and a second referendum. If passed, these would then be incorporated into Theresa May’s deal.

But a Whitehall source last night said the ‘high-risk’ strategy would only be considered if ministers were certain that Labour were signed up to it.

‘The problem is that if you put the Withdrawal Bill in front of MPs and they vote it down then you have lost if for this session. You would have to prorogue Parliament to bring it back so it’s pretty high-risk.’

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell yesterday joined talks between the two parties in Whitehall, which also included Chancellor Philip Hammond and Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Mr McDonnell said Labour was seeking assurances that any agreement could not be overturned by a future Tory prime minister.

His comments reflect concern in Labour ranks that a Brexiteer such as Boris Johnson could simply tear up any agreement if they became PM after Mrs May steps down.

Mr McDonnell said: ‘Some of the discussion that will take place will be about how any deal is secure for the long term and how best to secure that either through domestic legislation or treaty.’ He expected the discussions would also cover alignment with the single market and environmental, consumer and workers’ rights. Asked whether the Government was indicating it would back a customs union, Mr McDonnell said: ‘Not yet – not even changes in language that I detect.’ Further talks are due to take place tomorrow.

Meanwhile, an aide to Mr Hammond yesterday said he faced the sack for attending a People’s Vote rally where he called for a second referendum. In defiance of the whips, Huw Merriman told the Westminster rally: ‘I am determined to play my part – if that means I use my voice and get fired for it then so be it.’ 

He urged French president Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to veto an extension and ‘put us out of our misery now’. 

‘If the EU elections go ahead, it is highly likely the UK will elect an army of Nigel Farage mini-me’s, who I am afraid will wreak havoc with the European Parliament and wreck your calculations about the balance of power within the EU.’

Tory MP Anne Main said the UK was becoming a ‘laughing stock’ and called it ‘appalling that we may be seeking an extension with no real sense of purpose’.

And Brexiteer Labour MP Kate Hoey added: ‘It does seem really humiliating for this country to have our Prime Minister going over to the European Union to literally beg for an extension. What is this saying about our country?’

As Mrs May flew to Berlin for talks yesterday, Commons Leader Mrs Leadsom urged her to ask Mrs Merkel to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement forged last November.

Even though the Prime Minister has long given up attempts at changes as the EU has repeatedly ruled them out, Mrs Leadsom raised the prospect she should still be pushing for them.

Speaking outside her London home, she told ITV News: ‘The Prime Minister is off to see Angela Merkel today and it would be fantastic if Angela Merkel will try to support a proper UK Brexit by agreeing to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.

‘There have been rumours over the weekend some senior members of the German government would be willing to do that in order to get Theresa May’s deal over the line.

‘As the person with the responsibility to get the legislation through, if we get the Prime Minister’s deal over the line because the EU has decided to support measures on the backstop, that would be the best possible outcome.’

But Mrs May’s official spokesman dismissed the idea, telling reporters: ‘Any plan going forward would be based on the current Withdrawal Agreement.’

There were also signs of resistance in the Cabinet to compromise with Labour, with International Trade Secretary Mr Fox warning that a customs union would leave the UK ‘stuck in the worst of both worlds’.

In a four-page letter to the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs, he explained how the scenario would see the UK ‘on the menu’ without any control. He said: ‘We would be stuck in the worst of both worlds, not only unable to set our own international trade policy, but subject, without representation, to the policy of an entity over which MPs would have no democratic control.’

He went on: ‘In such a scenario the UK would have a new role in the global trading system – we ourselves would be traded. As the famous saying in Brussels goes, if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.’

DUP party leader Arlene Foster and Westminster leader Nigel Dodds both accused Mrs May of ‘begging’ European leaders for help to break the impasse. 

‘The talks between the Prime Minister and the leaders of France and Germany is humiliating and embarrassing for the UK,’ Mr Dodds said last night.

DUP party leader Arlene Foster and Westminster leader Nigel Dodds (pictured in Belfast on February 8) accused Mrs May of ‘begging’ European leaders for help to break the impasse 

 ‘The problems the Prime Minister is attempting to solve were not created by the decision to leave the EU, rather the ineffective negotiations by the Prime Minister to implement that decision.’

Earlier, Mrs Foster questioned Mrs May’s leadership qualities. ‘She needed to be strong, she needed to show leadership, and I’m sorry to say that hasn’t been evident in these past couple of months,’ she told the BBC.

The Conservative Party ‘will vanish’ if it doesn’t appeal to the young, say three senior MPs 

Three senior Tories in their 40s brandished their youth appeal yesterday as they pitched to be the ‘next generation’ leader to succeed Theresa May.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, 40, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, 46, and Foreign Affairs committee chairman Tom Tugendhat, 45, are all expected to run for PM when Theresa May steps down.

All three have endorsed a report which warned the Conservative Party faces an ‘existential’ crisis unless it appeals to the young.

Foreign Affairs committee chairman Tom Tugendhat, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Health Secretary Matt Hancock today urged the Tory Party to appeal to the young as they launched a think-tank report 

The report by think-tank Onward found the ‘tipping point’ at which voters are more likely to vote Conservative is now 51, up from 47 at the last election.

Speaking at the report’s launch in Westminster, Mr Hancock warned Tory voters are getting older and back the party ‘when they get their first Winter Fuel Allowance’ – not when they ‘get their first pay cheque’.

Mr Hancock, a former Bank of England economist, yesterday set out the case for ‘Caring Conservatism’, saying: ‘Enough about being just comfortable with modern Britain, we need to be champions of modern Britain.We need to champion a Britain that is positive and optimistic and gregarious and outward-facing and community-building and inclusive, and perhaps above all, caring.’

Previously seen as a rank outsider, Mr Hancock’s odds of winning have shortened markedly in recent weeks.

A former chief of staff to George Osborne, he won the West Suffolk seat in 2010 and has been a minister since 2013.

Mr Tugendhat, a former intelligence officer in the British Army, told the event the next leader should be someone under 50.

Calling for more focus on technical education and cheaper childcare, Mr Tugendhat said: ‘We need to look like the people who people want to associate with. And if we don’t get that right we will be in real trouble.’

Miss Mordaunt said Onward’s report was a ‘kick up the a***’ for the Tories. The MP for Portsmouth North worked in business and public relations before entering Parliament and rising up the ministerial ranks.

The ‘Generation Why’ report, based on polling by Hanbury Strategy, found 16 per cent of under-35s would vote Conservative. Just 17 per cent of Tory voters are under 45, and only 4 per cent under 25. 

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