Theresa May will not ask the EU for a “long extension” to Brexit talks, according to a No. 10 official, as the EU said it would likely have to hold an extra European Council summit next week to deal with the prime minister’s request.
The prime minister came under concerted pressure from Brexiteers during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday not to request a long extension of the Article 50 negotiating period. Many of them are against any sort of delay to Brexit and are furious at the prospect of the U.K. having to contest the European election in May — something the EU say would be required if Article 50 were extended beyond July 1.
“There is a case for giving parliament a bit more time to agree a way forward, but the people of this country have been waiting nearly three years now,” the No. 10 official said Wednesday. “They are fed up with parliament’s failure to take a decision and the PM shares their frustration.” The official would not confirm what they mean by a long extension.
Shortly after the news emerged, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Deutschlandfunk radio that EU leaders will likely not make a decision on extending the Brexit negotiating period at a summit this week and instead hold another meeting next week to decide.
“My assessment … is that the European Council this week won’t come to a decision and we’ll probably have to meet again next week because Mrs. May doesn’t have approval for anything — not in her Cabinet and not in parliament,” Juncker said. “As long as we don’t know what Britain could say yes to, we can’t come to any decision.”
Asked what a short Brexit extension could achieve, Juncker said: “These months must lead at the end of the day to the British parliament approving the treaty texts that have been put before them. If that doesn’t happen and Britain does not leave as foreseen at the end of March then we’re actually in God’s hands — and that’s something I’m not happy to say. I think even God’s patience snaps eventually.”
“We are still talking to the British. After all, we’re not in a state of war with Britain, we’re in a state of negotiation. But the negotiations have been concluded,” he added.
May will on Wednesday make a formal request to Brussels to extend the Article 50 Brexit negotiating process amid enormous pressure from Euroskeptics within her party not to delay the divorce by more than three months.
The PM will publish an official letter to European Council President Donald Tusk setting out the detail and justification of Britain’s need for a delay today.
Asked what May will need to have in her baggage to secure an extension, Juncker said: “She must have approval of the treaty that’s been negotiated and she must have a clear idea of timing.”
The Commission president added: “We have moved intensively toward Britain, more isn’t possible.”
Former Tory leader and Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC’s Today Program there would be “repercussions” if the government does not deliver on the Brexit referendum.
“The British people will want to know why it was that we failed to do what we said we’d do … why we’re not standing by our word. It’s going to cause real damage to the nature of belief and trust in politics,” said Duncan Smith, who has twice voted against ratifying the Brexit deal struck between London and Brussels in November.
“I cannot conceive of the Conservative Party in the House [of Commons] voting for any extension, particularly not an extension of two years or so. I think you’d end up with about 90 percent of the Conservative Party in parliament against that,” he added, “The government’s got to tread very, very carefully.”
Anna Soubry, who defected from the Tories to join The Independent Group, said: “I think this is an intolerable situation that’s actually verging on the outrageous. This is an unprecedented crisis and in these times the country needs clarity and leadership.”
Ian Geoghegan contributed reporting.