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Brexit: Theresa May says UK will seek 'short extension' as she reaches out to Corbyn for new deal

The offer to compromise with Labour suggests the prime minister has abandoned hope of passing her deal on the back of DUP votes

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Tuesday 02 April 2019 19:16 BST
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Theresa May says UK will seek 'short extension' as she reaches out to Corbyn for new deal

Theresa May has said she will seek a short extension to the Article 50 period to try and find a compromise with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that can break the Brexit deadlock.

The prime minister was not clear in her statement how long the extension will be, but did say her target was to see the UK leave the European Union by 22 May.

But the offer to compromise with Mr Corbyn indicates the prime minister has abandoned hope of passing her deal on the back of Tory and DUP votes.

It also suggests that she could be willing to shift her red lines, particularly in relation to a customs union which is likely to be the key facet of any Labour wish-list.

Key ministers in Ms May’s cabinet, including Andrea Leadsom and Liam Fox, have indicated they could quit if Britain is unable to execute trade deals after Brexit – though no resignations have yet materialised.

After confirming that she would seek a delay to Brexit past the current 12 April departure date that is “as short as possible”, she said that the debate on the UK’s departure “cannot drag on much longer”.

She went on: “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.

“Any plan would have to agree the current withdrawal agreement – it has already been negotiated with the 27 other members, and the EU has repeatedly said that it cannot and will not be reopened.

“What we need to focus on is our Future Relationship with the EU.”

The prime minister said the ideal outcome of the process would be to agree an approach on the future that “delivers on the result of the referendum”, that both she and Mr Corbyn agree on and which the European Council would find feasible at a summit next week.

This debate, this division, cannot drag on much longer It is putting Members of Parliament and everyone else under immense pressure – and it is doing damage to our politics

Theresa May

She explained that if a single approach could not be agreed the government would instead agree a number of options for the future relationship that could be to the House of Commons to determine which course to pursue.

On Monday the Commons voted on four different Brexit outcomes with MPs unable to find a majority for anything, though a customs union came within three votes of passing.

Ms May added: “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.

“The government would then bring forward the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. We would want to agree a timetable for this bill to ensure it is passed before 22 May so that the United Kingdom need not take part in European parliamentary elections.”

Could the Brexit chaos result in another general election?

Ms May has failed three times to win support from the Commons for her Brexit deal as it stands, with a large number of mainly Tory Brexiteer MPs refusing to back it because they believe it does not represent a clean enough break from the EU.

But if Ms May does eventually end up backing any kind of deal that leaves the UK in a customs union, it could well mean not just cabinet resignations but a major split of her party all the way down to the grass roots.

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