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UK to ask EU for more time to break Brexit logjam

April 02, 2019 23:40 IST

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday said the United Kingdom would seek a further short extension from the European Union to try and break the parliamentary logjam over Brexit.

IMAGE: British Prime Minister Theresa May pointed out that the MPs had failed to come up with an answer. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

After a marathon seven-hour-long Cabinet meeting at Downing Street, May issued a statement to indicate the government's next steps a day after the House of Commons once again failed to agree on any specific alternative to her controversial EU divorce bill.

As things stand, the UK is set to leave the EU on April 12 without a deal unless a withdrawal agreement or an extension is agreed by the other 27 members of the economic bloc.

 

"I have always been clear that we could make a success of No Deal in the long-term. But leaving with a deal is the best solution. So we will need a further extension of Article 50 – one that is as short as possible," May said in her statement.

In reference to the repeated failure of the Commons to come up with a Brexit strategy that is backed by a majority, May pointed out that MPs had failed to “come up with an answer”.

"So today I am taking action to break the logjam: I am offering to sit down with the Leader of the Opposition and to try to agree a plan - that we would both stick to - to ensure that we leave the European Union and that we do so with a deal," she said.

Admitting the problems that would persist despite such a proposed meeting with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the British PM said that if a single unified approach remains a elusive, then the focus would be to agree a number of options for the "Future Relationship" with the EU that could be put to the Parliament in a series of votes to determine which course to pursue.

"Crucially, the government stands ready to abide by the decision of the House. But to make this process work, the Opposition would need to agree to this too," she said, in an urgent call for unity.

"This is a difficult time for everyone. Passions are running high on all sides of the argument. But we can and must find the compromises that will deliver what the British people voted for," she added.

Under her latest proposal, May hopes to bring back her Withdrawal Agreement for another vote within an agreed timetable with the Opposition to ensure it is passed before May 22 -- so that the UK need not take part in European Parliament elections scheduled for May 23.

"This is a decisive moment in the story of these islands. And it requires national unity to deliver the national interest," May urged.

Her latest statement came amid ongoing Brexit deadlock in Parliament and just as a cross-party group of MPs put forward a bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit on April 12 by law. The bill was designed to force May's hand into asking for an extension to Article 50, but it remains up to the EU to grant that extension.

Earlier, EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said a no-deal Brexit is now more likely but can still be avoided.

Barnier said a long extension to the UK's April 12 exit date had "significant risks for the EU" and a "strong justification would be needed".

For a shorter extension, as sought by the UK now, the EU has already indicated that it would need a proper plan in place to consider it.

In the latest round of indicative votes on Monday, MPs had rejected a customs union with the EU by three votes. A motion for another referendum got the most votes in favour, but still lost. The votes were not legally binding, but they had been billed as the moment when a compromise alternative to May's divorce bill might emerge.

However, with the failure of that process, May is hoping to garner enough Opposition backing to get her withdrawal agreement through the Commons hurdle -- rejected three times by Parliament over the controversial Irish backstop clause. 

Aditi Khanna
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