Theresa May insisted she still wants Brexit to happen on March 29 today after another bruising round of crisis talks with EU leaders.
The Prime Minister said it was still ‘in our grasp’ to leave the bloc on schedule despite Donald Tusk urging her to admit that delay was the ‘rational solution’.
The defiant stance at the close of a summit in Egypt came after she was apparently given short shrift by counterparts in the latest diplomatic efforts – and with a Remainer revolt threatening to spiral out of control.
Mrs May has been left pleading for Remainer ministers not to crash her strategy by joining efforts to force a Brexit delay in crunch votes on Wednesday.
But there are few signs that she can hold back the rebellion, after ministers openly threatened to defy her, warning that the ‘dam is breaking’.
Amid the bitter standoff, senior EU officials are believed to be preparing for a longer extension to the Article 50 process than the few months being mooted by Remainers.
The idea could see the UK stay a member for another 21 months to avoid a ‘cliff edge’ and give more time for a deal to be reached – or better preparations to be made for no deal.
At a press conference to close the EU-Arab League summit in Sharm El-Sheikh this afternoon, EU council chief Donald Tusk swiped that Mrs May was not yet ready to face facts about a delay.
‘PM May still believes she is able to avoid the scenario,’ he said. Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Juncker made clear the EU had no plans to sign off any revised deal before a gathering on March 21 – barely a week before the Brexit date.
Irish PM Leo Varadkar suggested a delay is more likely than no deal, and Dutch premier Mark Rutte delivered a stark warning against ‘sleepwalking’ into disaster.
But at her own press conference Mrs May said: ‘It’s in our grasp to leave with a deal on the 29th of March and that is where all my energies are going to be focused.’
Theresa May said it was still ‘in our grasp’ to leave the EU on schedule despite Donald Tusk urging her to admit that delay was the ‘rational solution’
Mrs May has been left pleading for Remainer ministers not to crash her strategy by joining efforts to force a Brexit delay in crunch votes on Wednesday
There are few signs that Mrs May can hold back the rebellion, after ministers openly threatened to defy her, warning that the ‘dam is breaking’.
Theresa May (left) has a breakfast meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) at the EU-League of Arab States Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Amid a bitter standoff the PM has admitted a final vote on her Brexit plan could be delayed until just 17 days before the EU exit date
Mrs May said she was making progress in talks but not enough to hold a second ‘meaningful vote’ this week
The PM also met EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Sharm El-Sheikh today
The issue of postponing Brexit came up ‘fleetingly’ during the discussions between Mrs May and Mrs Merkel this morning, according to Downing Street. But a spokesman said the PM simply repeated that she wanted the UK to leave with a deal on March 29.
Speaking at a press conference to close the summit, Mr Tusk said: ‘Prime Minister May and I discussed yesterday a lot of issues including the legal and procedural context of a potential extension.
‘For me it is absolutely clear that (if) there is no majority in the House of Commons to approve a deal, we will face an alternative – chaotic Brexit or extension. ‘The less time there is until March 29, the greater the likelihood of an extension. ‘This is an objective fact, not our intention, not our plan, but an objective fact.
‘I believe that in the situation we are in an extension would be a rational solution, but Prime Minister May still believes she is able to avoid this scenario.
Ex-Tory MP threatens ministers over no-deal Brexit papers
A Tory defector has threatened to launch contempt proceedings against ministers unless they release internal assessments about no-deal Brexit.
Anna Soubry, who quit to join the Independent Group last week, withdrew a Commons amendment demanding publication of the Cabinet papers earlier this month after being assured that she would be given access to them.
But she told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show that she had not yet seen them.
Ms Soubry said: ‘This minister, with the agreement of the Government, said ‘We will give you these papers’. These papers are really, really important.
‘What they show is an impartial, honest appraisal of the grave dangers to our country in trade and economic terms if we leave without a deal. We believe that the public have a right to see those papers.’
She said: ‘At the moment, I am putting my faith in good ministers who were promising that what I need will be delivered in time for Wednesday’s debate. That’s the critical thing, because it will inform MPs.’
‘I can assure you – and I did it also yesterday in my meeting with Prime Minister May – that no matter which scenario will be, all the 27 will show maximum understanding and goodwill.’
Mrs May said she had had ‘good’ meetings with EU leaders.
Asked why she was resisting a delay to Brexit, Mrs May said: ‘An extension to Article 50, a delay in this process, doesn’t deliver a decision in Parliament, it doesn’t deliver a deal. All it does is precisely what the word ‘delay’ says.
‘Any extension of Article 50 isn’t addressing the issues.
‘We have it within our grasp. I’ve had a real sense from the meetings I’ve had here and the conversations I’ve had in recent days that we can achieve that deal.
‘It’s within our grasp to leave with a deal on March 29 and that’s where all of my energies are going to be focused.’
Overnight Mrs May said she was making progress in talks but not enough to hold a second ‘meaningful vote’ this week. Instead she set a new deadline of March 12 to win approval of a plan that suffered a shattering Commons defeat last month.
This means pro-Remain ministers will now have to decide whether to follow through with threats to defy Mrs May and vote for a backbench bid on Wednesday to postpone the Brexit date.
If the backbench motion is passed, Mrs May would have until March 13 to get her plan through Parliament or be forced to seek a delay in the process.
That would set up a showdown on March 12 when Eurosceptics could be asked to back a deal they dislike or face the possibility of Parliament forcing a postponement of Brexit the following day.
In a possible escape clause for Mrs May, a rival amendment has been tabled by Tory moderates. It is similar to the Cooper-Boles plan, but watered down to be non-binding on the government and suggesting a Brexit delay until May 23.
It has emerged that the EU may insist that Brexit is delayed until the start of 2021 if the UK requests an extension of Article 50.
The idea is apparently favoured by the EU’s top civil servant Martin Selmayr among others, although it could face intense resistance from Brexiteers.
One official told the Guardian: ‘If leaders see any purpose in extending, which is not a certainty given the situation in the UK, they will not do a rolling cliff-edge but go long to ensure a decent period to solve the outstanding issues or batten down the hatches.
‘A 21-month extension makes sense as it would cover the multi-financial framework (the EU’s budget period) and make things easier.’
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said that in their meeting, Mrs May and Mr Juncker ‘took stock of the work done over the last days by their teams’ and agreed on ‘the need to conclude this work in time before the European Council on March 21’.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier will meet a UK team in Brussels on Tuesday ‘to take work further in this constructive spirit’.
Ms Andreeva described as ‘pure speculation’ reports that the EU was considering a lengthy extension of the Article 50, perhaps to the end of 2020.
‘An extension first of all requires the UK to request such an extension, and secondly it requires the EU27 to agree on an extension unanimously,’ she said.
‘Neither of these two has happened so far which is why our working assumption remains that the UK is leaving on March 29 2019.’
Before making her announcement on the vote schedule yesterday, Mrs May was warned by officials that delaying a showdown on her revised deal would all but guarantee postponing Brexit day beyond March 29.
Civil servants have told the PM there is unlikely to be enough time to pass Brexit legislation, the Mail understands.
Dutch PM Mark Rutte (pictured left with Mrs May today) delivered a stark warning that the UK is ‘sleepwalking’ into a no-deal Brexit, urging hardline MPs to ‘wake up’ and approve an agreement
Mrs May also held talks with the Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah (pictured right) this morning
One minister told the Telegraph if the deal goes through at that point the PM would be likely to ask for a two-month extension to Article 50.
Another option presented to the PM by the No10 Europe Unit were to hold a vote on the deal this week – with the likely result it was lost.
May: I’m going nowhere
Eurosceptics hoping to install a Brexiteer in No 10 by June were slapped down by Theresa May yesterday.
The Prime Minister indicated she wanted to remain in Downing Street long after Brexit and set out plans for an extensive domestic policy programme.
She said: ‘My job is not just about delivering Brexit. Actually, there’s a domestic agenda that I’m delivering on, that reflects what I said on the doorstep of No 10 when I first became PM.
‘That’s why we’ve been making key decisions like the extra money for the NHS. There is still a domestic agenda that I want to get on with.’ While not being drawn on a departure date, Mrs May also spoke about the second stage of Brexit talks on the future economic and security partnership.
A senior Brexiteer said this was unacceptable: ‘There is no way she can be allowed to conduct the next round of negotiations after the mess she’s made of this one. We need someone who actually believes in Brexit.’
Some hardliners are considering demanding Mrs May’s immediate departure as their price for backing her Brexit plan. Others want her to go after local elections in May.
A second option was of an indicative vote on whatever concession is likely to be secured from Brussels.
Mrs May’s dramatic gamble came 24 hours after Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark signalled they could quit the Cabinet this week to back the backbench move themselves unless a withdrawal agreement is in place.
At least a dozen more ministers are considering their positions – potentially enough to allow the motion proposed by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory Sir Oliver Letwin to pass.
Defence minister Tobias Ellwood told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he believed the PM was ‘listening’ and suggested she could announce a delay in the Commons tomorrow.
‘You need to wait and hear what she has to say when she gets back,’ he said.
That, I don’t know. I’m encouraging that to happen because it’s not in anybody’s interest to see no deal.’
He also posted on Twitter: ‘The penny is dropping, the tide is turning, the dam is breaking.
‘Choose your metaphor – if there’s no Parliamentary agreement soon, more and more colleagues are calling for an Art 50 extension rather than crashing out without a deal.’
Writing in the Daily Mail at the weekend, Ms Rudd, Mr Gauke and Mr Clark warned that ‘if there is no breakthrough in the coming week’ there was a clear majority in Parliament to delay Brexit rather than ‘crash out’.
The ministers, who all campaigned for Remain, described No Deal as disastrous, saying it would ‘see us poorer, less secure and potentially splitting up’. Their intervention led Eurosceptic MPs to call for them to be sacked.
Speaking on a flight to an EU-Arab League summit in Egypt, the Prime Minister insisted she still believed that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’.
Short stop, long stop or full stop: Theresa May’s Brexit delay options
Defence minister Tobias Ellwood suggested Mrs May could announced a Brexit delay herself, saying: ‘The Prime Minister is listening and is recognising the fact that we have tried very, very hard in order to secure a deal.’
Speculation that Brexit could be delayed to allow Theresa May to strike a deal with Brussels is sweeping through Westminster.
Various plans are afoot that would allow Britain’s departure to be postponed past 11pm on March 29, the real question is how long is the extension.
The longer the grace period, the angrier hardline Brexiteers in Theresa May’s Cabinet and on the Conservative backbenchers are likely to be.
Here are some of the options:
Short and sweet
Various groups are advocating a delay of around two months. An amendment tabled by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory former minister Oliver Letwin – to be put to a vote on Wednesday – would force Mrs May to seek an extension if a deal has not been approved by MPs by March 13.
Ms Cooper, a former Labour minister, said on Monday it would allow Parliament to tell the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the negotiation process but leave it in the Government’s hands to decide how long it should be.
Mrs May could seek to take matters into her own hands as early as tomorrow when she makes a Commons statement.
This could theoretically see off a rebellion by Remain-supporting MPs and ministers who are threatening to back Cooper-Letwin.
Defence minister Tobias Ellwood suggested there was a possibility of Mrs May herself announcing an extension of the two-year Article 50 negotiation process beyond March 29.
Mr Ellwood told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘The Prime Minister is listening and is recognising the fact that we have tried very, very hard in order to secure a deal.’
The EU is said to favour a longer delay, possibly up to 21 months.
Plans being considered in Brussels would see the transition period due to follow on if the UK leaves with a deal replaced by staying in the EU proper, the Guardian reported.
This would allow for deeper talks on the future relationship between Britain and the EU, with the aim of making the Irish border backstop – the main sticking point in the drawn-out negotiations – redundant.
The possibility of extending Article 50 was raised when May met with German chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday in Egypt.
Britain could unilaterally reverse Article 50 and stay in the EU until the deal is done.
A European court ruled last year that this can be done by the UK without seeking consent from other EU states, whereas extending the Article 50 period would require agreement from the other 27 capitals.
But it would also be likely to see Brexiteers in Mrs May’s party explode with rage and could speed up her demise.
Mrs May met European Union Council President Donald Tusk, right, on the sidelines of the summit yesterday
Prime Minister Theresa May is hugged by the Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borissov
But she refused to criticise the rebel trio and ducked questions about whether the fragile state of her Government made the ministers ‘unsackable’.
Mrs May said: ‘Collective responsibility has not broken down. What we’ve seen around the Cabinet table, in the party, in the country at large is strong views on the issue of Europe. That’s not a surprise to anybody.
‘We have around the Cabinet table a collective, not just responsibility, but desire to actually ensure we leave the EU with a deal. That’s what we’re working for, that’s what I’m working for.
‘We’ve been having positive talks with the EU. As you know we were in Brussels last week, my team will be back in Brussels again this coming week. They will be returning to Brussels this Tuesday.
If the backbench motion is passed, Mrs May would have until March 13 to get her plan through Parliament or be forced to seek a delay in the process
Mrs May is holding talks with Angela Merkel today in the hope the German chancellor can break the deadlock in Brussels
‘As a result of that we won’t bring a meaningful vote to Parliament this week, but we will ensure that happens by March 12. It is still within our grasp to leave the EU with a deal on March 29. And that’s what we’re working to do.’
Mrs May is holding talks with Angela Merkel today in the hope the German chancellor can break the deadlock in Brussels.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith last night said that by delaying the meaningful vote, Mrs May was effectively ‘calling the bluff’ of the Cabinet rebels.
‘They are smashing the whole concept of government,’ he said.
Mrs May speaks with Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, centre left, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, right
‘If they resign and this Brexit delay goes through then we will end up in a general election and these people need to be deselected because they are going to be responsible for delivering a Corbyn government.’
Fury of the business chiefs
Business leaders have ‘lost all faith’ in the political process after the decision to delay a meaningful vote on Brexit.
Industry groups said it was ‘unbelievable’ that political ‘tactics’ were being put ahead of the economy and that there was ‘little chance’ of a deal being agreed by March 29.
Their frustration comes amid warnings from former Bank of England policymaker Danny Blanchflower that interest rates could be slashed into negative territory for the first time in history in the event of a chaotic no-deal Brexit. Adam Marshall, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: ‘We are well into the 11th hour, and these endless political manoeuvres aren’t helping the businesses, communities or people of the UK.’
Edwin Morgan, of the Institute of Directors, said: ‘The Prime Minister must make absolutely clear what the Government’s next steps will be if the vote fails again.’
And Josh Hardie, of the CBI, added: ‘No deal is hurtling closer. It must be averted.’
Miss Cooper’s plan would enable Parliament to take control and pass legislation requiring the Government to extend Article 50 if there is no agreement by March 13.
The timeline is almost identical to one set out by Mrs May’s chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins when he was overheard discussing the Government’s strategy in a Brussels bar this month.
A senior Brexiteer last night described this as ‘Hobson’s choice’ but added: ‘We are not there yet.’
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, described the latest delay as ‘the height of irresponsibility’ and accused the PM of ‘recklessly running down the clock in a desperate attempt to force MPs to choose between her deal and no deal. Parliament cannot stand by and allow this happen.’
EU Council president Donald Tusk is said to be resistant to the idea of a short extension, fearing the two sides could find themselves still deadlocked in a few months’ time. Mr Tusk, who held talks with Mrs May in Egypt last night, warned the PM that EU leaders remained concerned she could not command a majority for her deal in Parliament.
An EU diplomat told The Guardian: ‘If leaders see any purpose in extending, which is not a certainty given the situation in the UK, they will not do a rolling cliff-edge but go long to ensure a decent period to solve the outstanding issues or batten down the hatches. A 21-month extension makes sense as it would cover the multi-financial framework [the EU’s budget period]. Provided leaders are not completely down with Brexit fatigue, and a three-month technical extension won’t cut it, I would expect a 21-month kick of the can.’
PM denies migrant jibe
Ending freedom of movement is a vital part of Brexit, Mrs May said yesterday as she denied having a ‘problem with immigration’.
Former Tory MP Anna Soubry, who last week quit the party, appeared to accuse the Prime Minister of xenophobia when she told the BBC she was ‘really worried’ about Mrs May’s approach to Brexit talks with the EU.
‘I think she just has a thing about immigration,’ she said. ‘I don’t know where the hell that’s come from.’ But Mrs May yesterday denied the claims.
‘Immigration has been good for this country,’ she said. ‘What many people felt in relation to the EU is that they wanted decisions about who could come to the UK to be taken by the UK government and not be taken in Brussels.
‘That’s why it’s important that we bring an end to free movement.
‘It enables us to move on to an immigration policy based on skills.’
Curb anti-Semitism or you’ll never be PM, deputy tells Corbyn
By Jack Doyle Associate Editor for the Daily Mail
Labour’s deputy leader launched a savage attack on Jeremy Corbyn yesterday as he warned a failure to deal with anti-Semitism had plunged the party into crisis.
Could 3 more Labour MPs abandon ship?
Margaret Hodge, pictured, said deputy leader Tom Watson’s demand that Labour eradicate anti-Semitism was a ‘final wake-up call’
Three more Labour MPs are threatening to quit the party over anti-Semitism and Brexit.
The trio are considering joining the new Independent Group and one said last night: ‘We’ll see what happens this week.’
Margaret Hodge, pictured, said deputy leader Tom Watson’s demand that Labour eradicate anti-Semitism was a ‘final wake-up call’. Another Labour MP, Louise Ellman, is on the brink of leaving after more than 50 years.
A friend said: ‘Louise will not be in the party for much longer.’
The third MP, Siobhain McDonagh, said on Friday she had decided not to resign ‘this week’ – meaning a decision to go could come soon.
Dame Margaret, a former minister who has faced months of abuse from hard-Left activists, said: ‘This is the final wake-up call for Jeremy Corbyn. The leadership has so lost trust but I don’t believe any of the figures they come out with on the cases they’ve dealt with. I’ve had pretty horrific abuse on Twitter. It absolutely doesn’t feel to me like there is zero tolerance on anti-Semitism.’ Dame Louise said: ‘I am still fighting with the party’s failure to deal with anti-Semitism.’
An unpublished Labour Party report into Dame Louise’s Liverpool Riverside constituency found she was physically threatened by one member and ‘there have been CLP meetings during which anti-Semitic incidents are alleged to have taken place’.
The report said: ‘These have arisen as a result of ‘obsessive interrogations’ of the MP over the Israel-Palestine conflict. Some members have felt that others are holding the MP – a Jewish woman – personally accountable for the actions of the Israeli government.’
The 11 members of the Independent Group will meet today to discuss organisation, including how to elect a leader. Yesterday Chuka Umunna called on voters to ‘join us, and help us forge a new, different kind of politics’.
A poll for The Observer puts the group’s support at 6 per cent, ahead of the Lib Dems. It has also emerged that Sir David Garrard, once one of Labour’s biggest donors, is supporting the new group.
Tom Watson said Mr Corbyn had to ‘change very, very rapidly’ to stop more MPs from following the nine who quit the party last week.
He also revealed he had handed the party leader a dossier of 50 cases where no adequate action had been taken over racist comments on social media about Jewish individuals.
In a TV interview, he demanded Mr Corbyn take personal charge of rooting out anti-Semitism because the ‘party machine’ had failed. And he urged him to change tack on Brexit and push for a second referendum.
‘The departure of our colleagues is a real blow, and we need to understand why they felt the need to go. Because if we’re going to be in government we need to address those concerns.
‘For us to hold this party together, things have to change. There’s almost a crisis for the soul of the Labour Party now. I absolutely fear that we will lose more parliamentary colleagues. We may lose peers from the House of Lords, and we may lose members and councillors and I don’t want that to happen.’
Mr Watson said Luciana Berger, the Liverpool Wavertree MP who left for the Independent Group last week, had been ‘bullied out of the Labour Party by a small number of racist thugs’ and he was ‘very very sad to see her go’.
Hard-Left activists, he said, were causing irreparable harm by ‘pouncing’ on MPs, and bullying them on social media. Details of the anti-Semitism dossier, seen by the Mail, show it included vicious racist abuse. One said of Jewish Labour MPs: ‘I don’t know what runs through their veins, not human blood.’
Mr Watson said Labour general secretary Jenny Formby’s attempts to combat anti-Semitism had ‘very patently not been adequate’ and Mr Corbyn should take a personal lead.
On Brexit, he said Mr Corbyn needed to ‘reunify our party’ and move towards a second referendum.
He also called for more centrist Labour MPs to be given jobs on the front bench and said he was going to set up a new ‘social democratic’ group of moderates to develop policies. In an interview with Sky News on Friday night, Mr Corbyn said he did not believe bullying existed in Labour on a wide scale.
When confronted with quotes from prominent Jews accusing him of not doing enough, he said there were ‘very many other people in the Jewish community’ who were happy.
A Labour Party spokesman said: ‘The Labour Party takes all complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it in all its forms. All complaints about anti-Semitism are investigated in line with our rules.’