Tusk Says Short Delay Requires Deal to Be Done: Brexit Update
(Bloomberg) -- The pressure is back on for Theresa May to gather a majority for her Brexit deal. The U.K. prime minister asked the European Union for a three-month extension to the March 29 deadline in a move that increases the risks of a no-deal departure.
- May has requested a delay until June 30 and plans to put her deal back to Parliament again
- EU doesn’t expect to make a final decision at summit this week. The idea of another gathering on March 28 is being floated
- France plays hardball, saying EU needs “guarantees” before granting delay. Ireland says to cut the U.K. some slack on the extension
- The pound fell as much as 0.9 percent
May: Brexit Delay is Matter of Great Personal Regret (8:45 p.m.)
In her statement in Downing Street, May added no new information, but tried to blame lawmakers, reaching out past parliament to the public.
“I am on your side,” she said. Delaying Britain’s departure was a matter of “great personal regret." At the start of her statement, she’d suggested that a longer delay was one of the options that MPs had, but she said that she was “not prepared to delay Brexit any further than June 30.”
"Of this I am absolutely sure: you the public have had enough,” May said. "You’re tired of the infighting, you’re tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows, Tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns about our children’s schools, our National Health Service, knife crime. You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree.”
Tory Brexiteers Warn May Her Time Is Running Out (8:10 p.m.)
Members of the pro-Brexit European Research Group went to see May this evening, and according to one of them, Nigel Evans, they were “very honest.” Speaking to Sky News, Evans said they warned May her time was up. “The way that it’s going, it may well be that we have to move on,” he said. “Trust was mentioned time and time again.”
He said that in the meeting May ruled out the idea of a general election.
May Not Budging, Opposition Leaders Say (8 p.m.)
Opposition leaders who met with May on Wednesday evening said she’s not shifting her position, and urged her to move towards a compromise position.
“She remains astonishingly intransigent, and continues to try to bully MPs into a choice between her deal or no deal,” said Liz Saville Roberts, Westminster leader of the Welsh party Plaid Cymru.
She and Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable both said she should hold a second referendum with Remain on the ballot paper. Cable said May could save her deal by agreeing to put it as the other option in the plebiscite.
“Only when she stops being so stubborn will the country have a way out of the crisis,” Cable said.
Anna Soubry, who quit May’s Conservative Party last month and was also at the meeting, said May doesn’t have a Plan B. “She is absolutely prepared for us to leave the European Union without a deal,” she said.
Corbyn Walks Out of Meeting With May (7:30 p.m.)
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn walked out of a meeting between the prime minister and opposition leaders, apparently in protest that Chuka Umunna was present. Umunna quit Labour last month and now speaks for an 11-strong group of former Labour and Conservative lawmakers.
“It’s really extraordinary behavior for the leader of the opposition to behave in really this kind of very juvenile way when the moment demands that we all step up and engage in some serious dialog to find a way through this chaos,” Umunna later told Sky News.
Labour said in a statement that "it was not the meeting that had been agreed and the terms were broken." It said it was in talks with May’s office about holding a bilateral meeting.
Cut U.K. Some Slack, Irish PM Says (5:35 p.m.)
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar struck a conciliatory tone during a briefing to reporters in Dublin, saying it’s time to cut the British “some slack” when it comes to an extension of the Brexit process.
While he said he has no settled view on how long an extension should be, and he’d rather the issue was resolved sooner rather than later, a no-deal Brexit by accident should be avoided. Still, he remain resolute on the backstop, saying it wouldn’t be changed. He also said he understood that May will address the nation tonight.
Grieve Attacks May for ‘Zigzagging’ on Brexit (5:30 p.m.)
Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve launched a disparaging critique of both Theresa May and her government, saying the integrity of ministers is fast running out. A “series of plain assurances” to the House of Commons on the length of Brexit extension the government would seek -- dependent on whether it’s deal was approved or not -- had been “entirely reneged upon,” he said.
He then turned his attention to May, calling her appearance on Wednesday at Prime Minister’s Questions as the “worst moment” he had experiences in Parliament.
“I have never felt more shame to be a member of the Conservative Party or to be asked to lend her support,” said Grieve, an MP for almost 22 years. He said he could have “wept to see the extent to which she was now zigzagging all over the place rather than standing up for what the national interest must be.”
May to Meet Opposition Parties on Brexit (5:05 p.m.)
Theresa May will meet leaders of the opposition parties in her office this evening, her spokesman James Slack told reporters in London. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is on the invitation list, and a Labour spokeswoman confirmed he planned to attend.
Talks are ongoing with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to bring them round to backing May’s deal, Slack said. He would not comment on newspaper reports Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay will begin the roll-out of Operation Yellowhammer -- the codename for the government’s no-deal Brexit plans -- next Monday, only telling reporters the government has been preparing for no-deal for two years.
Slack also refused to confirm speculation May will make a statement at her Downing Street residence this evening.
U.K. Official Hints at Vote on Deal Next Week (5 p.m.)
A U.K. government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said May will endeavor to bring back her meaningful vote to Parliament next Tuesday or Wednesday, provided it has changed enough for Speaker John Bercow to allow a vote.
Tusk Sets the Conditions (4:25 p.m.)
EU President Donald Tusk told reporters in Brussels that a short Brexit extension is possible -- but it’s conditional on “a positive vote on the withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons.”
But he struck a conciliatory note when he spoke to reporters but questioned whether May’s request to extend to June 30 is workable.
“The question remains open as to the duration of such an extension,” he said. “Prime Minister May’s proposals of June 30, which has its merits, creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature.” Leaders will discuss this tomorrow.
Tusk said if there was a need of an extraordinary summit next week -- something that’s being pushed by many European governments -- he would call one. But he said this wouldn’t be necessary if the deal passed in Parliament next week.
“Even if the hope for a final success may seem frail, even illusory, and although Brexit fatigue is increasingly visible and justified, we cannot give up seeking until the very last moment a positive solution, of course without opening up the withdrawal agreement,” he said.
Brexit Secretary Concedes Softer Exit Possible (4:15 p.m.)
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay conceded in his intervention in the emergency debate that a softer Brexit is possible if lawmakers reject the prime minister’s deal for a third time. It’s an easing in the rhetoric from the minister who has previously suggested the alternatives are no deal or no Brexit.
The PM’s deal is “the best means of ensuring an orderly Brexit,’’ Barclay said. “If however the House continues to refuse a deal,’’ then “it is clear the House will need to decide between no deal, a softer Brexit or no Brexit at all.’’
He reiterated that Members of Parliament will be able to explore other options on Brexit through an amendable motion that the government will put forward on Monday.
EU Says Come Back Next Week (3:45 p.m.)
Theresa May’s letter asking for an extension until June 30 came too late for leaders to make a final decision at Thursday’s summit, a senior diplomat said. The EU will ask May for proof that her request, and the deal itself, has parliamentary support. The bloc wants this in the first half on next week. Leaders are likely to reconvene in the second half of next week to work out how to avoid chaos and damage to the EU, the diplomat said. A date for a summit next week has not yet been fixed but is likely to be March 28 or 29, the diplomat said.
EU President Donald Tusk is expected to make a similar point in his statement at 5 p.m. in Brussels, according to the diplomat.
Starmer Calls for Different Approach on Brexit (3:25 p.m.)
Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer opened the emergency debate on the Brexit extension with a call for May to abandon her “same old blinkered approach” and instead “provide time for Parliament to find a majority for a different approach.”
The extension period “should of course be as short as possible, but it must be long enough to determine the purpose,” Starmer said. “This House needs to have time to decide what happens next, and a different prime minister might have reflected on what happened last week” and accepted her deal would not get through, he said.
U.K. Parliament Holds Emergency Debate on Delay (3:20 p.m.)
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow accepted a request from the Labour Party to hold an emergency debate on the Article 50 extension to Brexit that May is seeking. The debate, which has already started, will last up to 3 hours, Bercow said.
Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer pointed out that May told the House of Commons last week that if a deal had been approved by today, she’d apply for a short extension, and that failing that, a longer extension would be needed.
“Parliament could not have expected the prime minister instead to pursue a course described at the despatch box by the minister for the cabinet office as downright reckless, yet today we hear that that is exactly what the prime minister intends to do,” Starmer said.
Emergency Summit Penciled in for March 28 (3:15 p.m.)
An extraordinary EU summit is likely to happen on March 28 -- one day before the scheduled Brexit day -- an EU diplomat said. This would be the case if May tells leaders at tomorrow’s summit that she intends to put the deal back to Parliament next week. If that’s her plan, leaders won’t make a final decision until they gather again, the diplomat said.
France Plays Hardball (3 p.m.)
The French government is dialing up the rhetoric as the clock ticks down. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the National Assembly this afternoon France won’t back any extension at all unless May can offer “guarantees” that the existing deal will be passed by Parliament.
“If she can’t bring sufficient guarantees, it would cause us to cast aside the request and prepare for a hard exit,” he said. It requires a unanimous decision of the 27 remaining EU members to approve an extension to Article 50.
Cabinet Unclear on May’s plans to Quit (1:45 p.m.)
Even May’s Cabinet colleagues appear unclear whether the prime minister would quit if she fails to get her deal through Parliament by June 30.
Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom told BBC Radio 4’s World At One show that May’s departure date is “impossible” to know.
May Told Juncker About Her Letter Before MPs (1:35 p.m.)
The prime minister spoke to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker about her letter seeking a three-month delay to Brexit before she informed Parliament, her spokesman said.
It’s not clear whether May put her plan to Cabinet for approval before sending the letter and the spokesman wouldn’t say if Cabinet ministers back her plan. Some pro-EU ministers are likely to want a longer delay, fearing a new cliff-edge at the end of June.
Despite repeatedly being asked whether May intends to resign rather than extend the deadline any further, the spokesman declined to answer.
Difference Over Dates Could be Significant (1:30 p.m)
Juncker’s suggestion of a May 23 deadline reflects the European Commission’s position as “guardian” of the EU treaties which takes the strictest legal line of all the EU bodies. It would see any country still in the bloc at the time of European elections as in breach of EU law if it didn’t participate.
But EU national governments have been given different legal advice, which says the U.K. can stay in the EU until the first sitting of the new European Parliament on July 2 if it doesn’t hold elections.
May feels confident to ask for a delay until June 30 because it’s the leaders of those governments who will decide whether to allow her request. Ultimately it will be a political, rather than a legal, decision for the EU -- but don’t rule out leaders siding with the Commission’s date if they want to play hardball.
Juncker Warns Against Delay Past May 23 (12:55 p.m.)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned May in a phone call against including a date for the extension that is after the EU’s elections scheduled for May 23-26, according to his spokeswoman Mina Andreeva. “Brexit has to be complete before May 23 otherwise #EUelections2019 have to be held in U.K.,” she said on Twitter.
Diplomats in Brussels say May’s request for a short extension just adds to the confusion about what will happen next. Given that the vote in Parliament won’t happen until next week, the EU is bracing for an inconclusive summit tomorrow. Diplomats say the chance of a further summit next week to make a decision on an extension is now likely.
Corbyn Says People Should Decide (12:30 p.m.)
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said May has been “running down the clock” and called for the public to have the final say -- though it was unclear whether he wants a general election or a referendum.
“We are still legally due to leave the European Union in nine days time. Months of running down the clock and a concerted campaign of blackmail, bullying and bribery has failed to convince the House or the country that her deal is anything but a damaging national failure and should be rejected,” Corbyn said.
“If the prime minister cannot get changes to her deal, will she give the people a chance to reject the deal and change the government?” the Labour leader asked. May didn’t answer
May’s Explanation to Tusk For Delay (12:20 p.m.)
May’s letter to Donald Tusk makes no mention of what she proposes to do if Parliament doesn’t vote through her deal.
Instead, she explains what’s happened in Parliament, asks for an extension to June 30, to allow the deal to be passed, along with the related legislation, and then stops.
Letter here: U.K. PM THERESA MAY’S LETTER ON SEEKING EXTENSION ON BREXIT
May: I’m not Prepared to Delay Any Longer (12:05 p.m.)
Theresa May announced she has asked the European Union to delay Brexit until June 30 and said she will bring her deal back for a third vote in the House of Commons.
“As prime minister I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than the 30th of June” May told lawmakers in the House of Commons after announcing that she has written to EU Council President Donald Tusk.
The premier hinted that she would rather quit than see the U.K. take part in EU elections in May. “I do not believe such elections would be in anyone’s interests,” she said before adding that they would not happen while she was prime minister.
Labour Seeks Emergency Debate on Extension (12 p.m.)
Labour has thrown its weight behind MP Alison McGovern’s push to get an emergency debate (see 9:35 a.m.), and taken over the move. The party’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, will now ask Commons Speaker John Bercow to grant the debate, following a series of so-called urgent questions in the chamber, including two on Brexit mechanics. The exact timing is hard to predict, but Starmer’s move should come at about 3 p.m.
Dark Mood in Brussels (11:10 a.m.)
The mood in Brussels is very bleak today, as EU officials don’t know how to read the U.K. government’s plans. One senior diplomat warned of a looming catastrophe and said the blame game for a no-deal has already started. Everybody should realize that responsibility must lie with May’s lack of clarity and delaying tactics over two years, he said.
Many EU governments are pressing for a crisis summit next Thursday -- that’s the day before the U.K.’s scheduled leaving day -- if there’s no definitive decision tomorrow, he said.
Tory MP Says Party on Verge of Schism (11 a.m.)
Philip Lee, a pro-EU Conservative member of Parliament who resigned as a minister last year to vote against May’s deal, said in an interview the Tory party is “having a Corn Laws moment,” referring to the 1846 schism that lasted for decades after then Prime Minister Robert Peel used opposition support to repeal import tariffs on food.
“You need to ask people in the Cabinet if they want no-deal next week or a second referendum,” Lee said. “If the prime minister made her deal contingent on a second referendum, it would pass.”
EU Trust in May Evaporating: Senior Official (10:45 a.m.)
A senior EU diplomat briefing reporters in Brussels said trust in May’s government is evaporating. The EU needs to know what a short Brexit extension means and why she thinks it will do any good. There’s a danger in prolonging the Brexit paralysis, the diplomat said, amid speculation there could be another summit next week to make a final decision on any delay.
The prime minister needs to be more precise with the EU about her plans than she’s ever been before, the diplomat said.
How Extension Could Play Out (10:30 a.m.)
We’re still waiting for Theresa May to publish her letter setting out exactly how long she wants the Brexit extension to be. But her office is saying it won’t be “long.” That probably means ending in June so the U.K. doesn’t have to take part in EU elections.
A short extension sets up the risk of a cliff-edge in July. That’s because the European Union has said that if the U.K. doesn’t hold European Parliament elections then it will be ejected from the club on July 1 -- deal or no deal.
However, there could be some wiggle room. May could come back to the bloc in early April and ask for a long extension then. That scenario would give her time to do one more vote in Parliament and if she still fails, she’d be in time to call European elections and avoid a no-deal Brexit in July. It’s also worth noting that, despite their misgivings, most EU governments think only a longer extension would be worthwhile to make progress.
The question is will the Brexiteers let her, and how will they react if she does lock in a long extension? Some were hinting on Tuesday they would quit and the Conservative Party would splinter.
Corbyn Said to Plan Barnier Meeting on Thursday (9:45 a.m.)
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is planning to meet with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier during his visit to Brussels on Thursday, according to two people familiar with the matter. He’s due to attend a meeting of European socialists before the EU summit.
Corbyn held cross-party talks in London on Monday in a bid to find a way out of the parliamentary impasse over Brexit. He’s pushing for a softer break from the EU that would see Britain remain in a customs union with the bloc.
Labour MP Seeks Emergency Debate on Extension (9:35 a.m.)
Labour member of Parliament Alison McGovern will ask Speaker John Bercow on Wednesday to grant an emergency debate on May’s decision to seek a Brexit delay, Anna Soubry, an independent MP, told the BBC.
That debate, if granted, would knock out the scheduled business of the day. There could even be amendments tabled to it mandating a change of course, though these would be difficult to organize at short notice. The move will come at the start of House of Commons business at 11.30 a.m.
EU Yet to Receive Delay Request From May (9:30 a.m.)
The EU says it has not yet received a request from the U.K. to delay Brexit, a senior EU official said, adding that the bloc hopes May’s intentions will be clear by the time she addresses leaders at a summit in Brussels at 3 p.m. on Thursday.
After May’s finished, the 27 other EU leaders will discuss the way forward without her, including preparations for the possibility of the U.K. leaving the bloc without a deal.
Leadsom: Next Vote on Deal Could Be Next Week (9:10 a.m)
During her LBC radio interview, House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said the government could potentially hold a third vote on May’s Brexit deal next week, despite Speaker John Bercow’s ruling on Monday that the can’t bring it back unchanged for another try.
“I think that if we have the numbers to be able to support the prime minister’s deal then we will be able to find a way around the procedures and there are different ways to do that and obviously that’s one of the things I’ve been considering,’ she told LBC.
She said the vote could “potentially” take place before March 29.
Leadsom Hints at Extension to June (8:45 a.m.)
Asked on LBC radio about how long the government will seek to delay Brexit, House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom dropped a June hint, pointing out that could happen without the U.K. taking part in European Parliament elections.
She was then asked directly: “June?”
“Well, yes,” she replied. “The reality is I can’t answer that question because it will be for the EU 27 to decide, and they do need to unanimously decide what they’re prepared to offer us.”
She later said, though, she wouldn’t speculate on the date May will request for an extension.
Juncker Raises Prospect of Summit Next Week (8:30 a.m.)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker floated the prospect of another summit of EU leaders next week, as there may not be enough clarity by tomorrow’s meeting to decide on whether to grant an extension. As of this morning, Brussels had yet to receive a letter from May requesting such an extension, Juncker told German public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk in an interview from “his bed.”
“Patience” is “wearing thin,” Juncker said, according to his spokeswoman on Twitter.
May Won’t Seek Long Delay (7:15 a.m.)
May will not ask the EU for a long delay to Brexit, a spokesman for the U.K. prime minister’s office said on Wednesday.
The prime minister is due to write to the bloc seeking the agreement of all 27 other leaders to delay the U.K.’s departure beyond its scheduled March 29 date. But she “won’t be asking for a long extension” to the deadline, the Downing Street spokesman said.
“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. They are fed up with Parliament’s failure to take a decision and the prime minister shares their frustration.”
It’s not yet clear how many months delay May will ask for. She has previously proposed a delay until the June 30 to avoid the U.K. needing to take part in European Parliament elections. But such a short delay potentially poses a risk that the U.K. will face the threat of a no-deal Brexit at the end of June.
May Stuck in Brexit Fight Amid Reports She Will Seek Short Delay
EU Said to See Mid-April Date for U.K. to Decide Brexit Fate
Brexit Delay Will Lead U.K. Markets to Factor in 2019 BOE Hike
Why Britain Voted to Say ‘Adieu’ to the EU: QuickTake
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.