The prime minister and her aides repeatedly highlighted that the country could avoid the ignominy of electing British MEPs to the European parliament if the Commons passes a deal in the coming weeks.
It would also mean Britain would not need the full extension of the Article 50 negotiating period until 31 October offered by European leaders last night – a proposal that saw Tory Brexiteers demand Ms May resign on Thursday.
No 10 said talks with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour to find a compromise that might enjoy a Commons majority would not continue “for the sake of it”, in a sign they are not progressing.
Officials underlined the PM’s desire to bring a series of options before MPs for voting – including her original withdrawal deal – if talks with Mr Corbyn collapse.
Having to take part in European elections on 23 May would be a humiliation for the prime minister, with her spokesman refusing to even say on Thursday that she would campaign.
In a Commons statement following Wednesday’s EU summit, Ms May insisted it is still possible Britain could avoid voting in the elections if MPs pass a deal before then.
She added: “The choices we face are stark and the timetable is clear. I believe we must now press on at pace with our efforts to reach a consensus on a deal that is in the national interest.”
But she acknowledged that reaching agreement in talks with Labour “will not be easy”, with both her and Mr Corbyn indicating the other side should compromise further on their positions.
A No 10 source said the government would continue to pursue the dialogue as long as they believed it was making progress, but added: “Bluntly, we won’t continue to talk for the sake of it.”
Ms May said that if they could not agree a single unified approach, they would seek to agree a “small number” of options which would then be put to the house for MPs to vote on.
Her aides later indicated that if agreement on those could not be reached, then the government would still press ahead with some kind of process soon aimed at finding which option might pass through the commons.
If that were still to fail, and possibly even before then, calls for the PM to resign are likely to intensify dramatically as leadership rivals continue to ramp up their campaigns.
Ma May brushed off calls to quit from veteran Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash, who described her acceptance of the latest extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process as an “abject surrender”.
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