May to ask EU for Brexit delay in letter to Donald Tusk

Theresa May is poised to formally request a fresh delay to Brexit today to prevent Britain leaving the EU without a deal next week.

The Prime Minister will write to EU Council President Donald Tusk to request an extension to Article 50 that will delay the UK’s departure beyond April 12, Government sources said.

Mrs May will seek a ‘termination clause’, which would allow the UK to leave on May 22 – the day before European elections – if a deal can be pushed through the UK Parliament. But if this fails, the delay is likely to extend until at least the end of the year.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox last night warned that Britain would be stuck in the EU for at least another year unless the Government cuts a soft Brexit deal with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He said it was now the only way in which Britain was likely to leave the EU next month. Several Brexiteer ministers are pushing Mrs May to rule out a long delay, with a handful even urging her to take Britain out of the EU without a deal next Friday if Parliament continues to refuse to pass her plan.

Theresa May will write to EU Council President Donald Tusk to request an extension to Article 50 that will delay the UK’s departure beyond April 12, Government sources said

Mr Cox told the BBC that unless a deal can be cut with Labour the delay would be a ‘long one... longer than just a few weeks or months’.

Last night the delay had not been signed off by the Cabinet, which is deeply split over how long to ask for. The move came amid signs that ministers are closing in on a deal with Labour that is likely to involve some form of customs union and guarantees on workers’ rights and environmental standards.

After two days of intensive talks, officials were last night working on a formal letter to Labour setting out the broad scope of a possible deal.

Sources played down reports that the package would include a second referendum although they pointed out there would be nothing to stop Parliament attempting to attach one to the deal. But both sides described talks, which will continue today, as constructive.

One Tory source said: ‘There has been a bit of capitulation on both sides. Everyone is looking to have something imposed on them – get a deal done and blame the other side for the bits they don’t like. It could all come crashing down, but at the moment it’s in play.’ Mrs May launched formal talks with Labour on Wednesday after MPs rejected her deal three times. The decision has prompted a furious Tory backlash, with Eurosceptic MPs threatening to go ‘on strike’ and up to 15 ministers saying they will quit if the deal includes a customs union.

But in an interview with the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast, Mr Cox said the Government had no choice but to agree a compromise if Britain was still to leave the EU. He warned that with Parliament now legislating to force the Government to seek a delay to avoid a No Deal Brexit next week, Mrs May ‘would have little choice but to accept the extension that she’s offered’. Asked if Mr Corbyn could become the midwife of Brexit, he replied: ‘So be it. What matters is this is born.’ The Cabinet is split over how long an extension to ask the EU for. At a seven-hour Cabinet showdown on Tuesday, up to 14 ministers voiced doubts about a long extension that would delay Brexit beyond the European Parliament elections on May 23.

After two days of intensive talks, officials were last night working on a formal letter to Labour setting out the broad scope of a possible deal

After two days of intensive talks, officials were last night working on a formal letter to Labour setting out the broad scope of a possible deal

Just ten Cabinet ministers backed a long delay to give time to negotiate a new deal. Downing Street yesterday confirmed that preparations for the elections are likely to go ahead, but insisted the £100million exercise could be called off as late as the day before if the Government is able to get a Brexit deal through Parliament.

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