Theresa May asks EU for Brexit delay

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May puts the pressure on lawmakers in Brexit address
02:59 - Source: CNN

What we're covering here

  • Prime Minister’s statement: Britain’s Theresa May made a television address, hours after she formally requested a three-month Brexit extension. She said she regretted seeking the delay and blamed lawmakers for failing to implement the result of the 2016 referendum.
  • Europe’s response: President of the European Council Donald Tusk says a short delay is possible but it’s conditional on UK Parliament passing May’s twice-defeated divorce deal.
  • Key days ahead: May travels to Brussels for a European Council summit Thursday where she’ll put her case forward to EU leaders for an extension.
  • But no-deal Brexit still looms: The UK could leave the EU without a deal in nine days if agreement isn’t reached on a delay.
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We'll be back tomorrow

We’re wrapping up our live coverage from London, where another dramatic Brexit day has come to a close.

We’ll be back tomorrow, when Prime Minister Theresa May will be in Brussels making her pitch to European Union leaders for an extension to Brexit until June 30. You can follow that here.

May's deal just won't die

Prime Minister Theresa May might be the last person in Britain to think her Brexit deal isn’t dead. But, evidently, she thinks it might not be a bad idea for someone to call it an ambulance.

After a day of drama in Westminster and Brussels, May addressed the nation to say that despite writing to President of the European Council Donald Tusk to seek a Brexit delay, she was still determined to get her twice-defeated divorce deal approved by UK parliament.

There’s a lot more stick than carrot these days, and the fallout from that will worry members of her already divided Conservative Party. But the reality is that May is out of options. 

And if she’s going to get this thing done, that means threats. And make no mistake, that’s exactly how this will be seen by politicians on both sides of the Brexit divide.

May was blunt. Asking Members of Parliament if they want to leave the EU with a responsible deal; do they want to crash out with a potentially catastrophic no deal, or do they want to stop Brexit altogether?

The message couldn’t have been clearer: the delay is your fault and you are letting down the nation.

Sometimes, after days of political drama, it’s worth reflecting on where we have ended up.

As we go into the final EU summit before the UK leaves the EU, we knew that the UK needed to extend Article 50. The question was, how long could EU leaders swallow having Brits sucking up oxygen in Brussels?

Here in Brussels, the picture is still pretty damn murky.

Ever since it became known last week that the UK would request an extension of the article 50 process, it’s been all eyes on Brussels. The key question: exactly how long would EU leaders allow Brexit to be delayed? The picture is murkier than ever.

Early on Wednesday morning, Downing Street sources surprised everyone by leaking to journalists that May would request a short extension. All week, for reasons that should in retrospect be examined by all involved, the expectation was that in the absence of the withdrawal agreement being given the nod in parliament, May would ask for a lengthy extension.

After a day of blind panic about how the EU would respond, Tusk made it clear that he could cope with a short extension – probably shorter than May requested for various reasons – if it meant the withdrawal agreement getting approved.

But he would say that: it’s the EU’s preferred option by a mile. Why? They don’t want the UK hanging around, the EU has a list of problems as long as your arm to be getting on with.

Indeed, some European diplomats cannot quite believe that the UK is still dragging its heels over this and are privately angry at how many concessions were given to a country soon to be outside the union.

So it’s Meaningful Vote three, it seems. May’s Brexit deal might not be dead. And, despite everything, it might not even be dying. But if it doesn’t stop taking body shot after body shot, it’s running out of time to recover in any meaningful way. 

Read Theresa May's full statement

Here’s the full text of Theresa May’s statement:

“Nearly three years have passed since the public voted to leave the European Union. It was the biggest democratic exercise in our country’s history. I came to office on a promise to deliver on that verdict.
In March 2017, I triggered the Article 50 process for the UK to exit the EU – and Parliament supported it overwhelmingly. Two years on, MPs have been unable to agree on a way to implement the UK’s withdrawal.
As a result, we will now not leave on time with a deal on 29 March. This delay is a matter of great personal regret for me.
And of this I am absolutely sure: you the public have had enough. You are tired of the infighting. You are tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows. Tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns about our children’s schools, our National Health Service, and knife crime.
You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side.
It is now time for MPs to decide.
So today I have written to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, to request a short extension of Article 50 up to the 30 June to give MPs the time to make a final choice.
Do they want to leave the EU with a deal which delivers on the result of the referendum – that takes back control of our money, borders and laws while protecting jobs and our national security?
Do they want to leave without a deal?
Or do they not want to leave at all, causing potentially irreparable damage to public trust – not just in this generation of politicians, but to our entire democratic process?
It is high time we made a decision.
So far, Parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice. Motion after motion and amendment after amendment have been tabled without Parliament ever deciding what it wants. All MPs have been willing to say is what they do not want.
I passionately hope MPs will find a way to back the deal I have negotiated with the EU.
A deal that delivers on the result of the referendum and is the very best deal negotiable.I will continue to work night and day to secure the support of my colleagues, the DUP and others for this deal.
But I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June.
Some argue that I am making the wrong choice, and I should ask for a longer extension to the end of the year or beyond, to give more time for politicians to argue over the way forward.
That would mean asking you to vote in European Elections, nearly three years after our country decided to leave. What kind of message would that send?
And just how bitter and divisive would that election campaign be at a time when the country desperately needs bringing back together?
Some have suggested holding a second referendum. I don’t believe that is what you want – and it is not what I want.
We asked you the question already and you gave us your answer. 
Now you want us to get on with it.
And that is what I am determined to do.”

May pins blame on lawmakers in televised address

Theresa May issued a stark warning to MPs on Brexit, telling them that the British public wanted them to “get on with it” and saying it was “high time” for them to take a decision.

“Parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice,” she said in her statement to the nation. “All MPs have been willing to say is what they do not want.”

Speaking from inside Downing Street, May said her divorce deal delivered on the result on the 2016 referendum, and was the best available.

“I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than the 30th of June,” May added, as she repeated a pledge she made earlier today in the House of Commons.

May also again ruled out supporting a second referendum on Brexit, and she rejected the idea she should ask for a longer extension to the withdrawal process.

“That would mean asking you to vote in European elections” nearly three years after the referendum.

“What kind of message would that send,” she asked.

May: Brexit delay is a matter of personal regret for me

Theresa May begins her statement to the nation by saying she regrets that UK Parliament has been unable to support her Brexit deal.

“We will now not leave on time with a deal on the 29th of March. This delay is a matter of great personal regret for me.”

“Of this I am absolutely sure – you, the public, have had enough.”

“I am on your side. It is now time for MPs to decide.”

HAPPENING NOW: Theresa May making statement to nation

British Prime Minister Theresa May is making a statement from Downing Street.

What happens next with Brexit?

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU in just nine days. Here’s a summary of some key dates until then.

Thursday, March 21: May heads to Brussels for a two-day summit with European leaders, where she will make her case for them to grant an extension to the Brexit process until 30 June.

Saturday, March 23: The Prime Minister will return to Westminster to persuade MPs to back her deal. She needs to persuade 75 to flip in order for it to pass.

Monday, March 25: The government must table an amendable motion in the House of Commons in response to its second meaningful vote loss last week. MPs will then have the opportunity to press for votes on alternative Brexit options.

May is also expected to call a third meaningful vote on her Brexit deal next week.

Thursday, March 28: An eleventh-hour emergency EU summit could take place on Thursday if May’s deal is defeated for a third time and no other agreement has been reached.

Friday, March 29: Britain is still set to leave the European Union at 11 p.m. local time.

Corbyn "walked out of talks" with May

Independent Group spokesperson Chuka Umunna.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walked out of crunch Brexit talks with Prime Minister Theresa May because members of the breakaway Independent Group of MPs were present, Britain’s Press Association reported.

During Prime Minister’s Questions earlier today, Corbyn had urged May to meet with him to discuss his alternative Brexit plan.

But the Labour leader left talks when he saw that lawmakers from the Independent Group, which includes eight former members of his party, were involved.

“We’re in a crisis situation here where the people of this country expect representatives from different political groupings in Parliament to come together and actually try and chart a way forward,” Independent Group spokesperson Chuka Umunna told Sky News.

“That’s why the prime minister convened the meeting. I welcomed the fact that she did so.

“I think it’s a really extraordinarily behavior for the Leader of the Opposition to behave in really this very juvenile way when the moment demands that we all step up and engage in some serious dialogue to find a way through this chaos and this mess. But he’ll have to explain his actions.”

Coming up: Theresa May to make statement

British Prime Minister Theresa May will address the nation at 8:15 p.m. local time (4:15 p.m. ET). Her statement comes a day before she meets European leaders in Brussels.

Dutch PM: Extension must serve "a clear purpose"

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says he has spoken to his German counterpart Angela Merkel and EU Council President Donald Tusk about Brexit. He’ll be talking to British Prime Minister Theresa May over the phone shortly, he added.

Rutte reiterated Tusk’s earlier insistence that any delay to Brexit be conditional on the House of Commons supporting May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

Donald Tusk sends letter to EU leaders

European Council President Donald Tusk has sent a letter to EU leaders ahead of tomorrow’s summit in Brussels. Brexit “will be the first topic of our discussions,” he writes.

Much of the letter repeats what Tusk said in his earlier news conference. Tusk reiterates: “I believe that we could consider a short extension conditional on a positive vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons.”

Read the full letter here.

"I have never felt more ashamed to be a member of the Conservative Party"

Dominic Grieve, one of the leading Remainers in Theresa May’s party, has made an impassioned speech in the House of Commons in which he heavily criticized the government’s Brexit strategy.

“The process of Brexit has brought me face to face with the fact that the underlying integrity which one hopes one will continue to see from government, even in difficult circumstances, now seems to be fast running out,” Grieve said during the emergency debate over the Brexit delay.

“She spent most of her time castigating the House for its misconduct. At no stage did she pause to consider whether it is in fact the way she is leading this government which might be contributing to this situation,” he added.

Grieve noted that he has sympathy for May, and has been friends with her for some time. “But I have to say I could have wept,” he said. “Wept to see her reduced to these straits, and wept to see the extent to which she was now simply zig-zagging all over the place rather than standing up for what the national interest must be.”

His remarks were well-received from another one-time disillusioned Conservative backbencher, Anna Soubry, who quit the party last month in protest of its handling of Brexit.

Theresa May will meet opposition leaders tonight

Theresa May leaves for Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.

Theresa May will hold meetings with the leaders of opposition parties from 6pm (2pm ET) tonight, a Downing Street spokesperson told CNN.

According to the spokesperson, May has also been meeting Cabinet ministers throughout the day and “may well” continue to meet with additional members of the Cabinet for the rest of the day.

Rumors have been circling Westminster this afternoon that May will make a public statement later this evening. The spokesperson did not deny those reports, but called them “purely speculation.”

A third Brexit vote next week?

Tusk talks to reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.

In his press conference, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, made it clear that the EU would only approve a delay to the Brexit process if the House of Commons approves the Withdrawal Agreement signed by Theresa May last year. That suggests a third “meaningful vote” must be held in Parliament next week.

What that means: First, Theresa May needs to persuade Speaker John Bercow that her deal is sufficiently altered to allow another vote. Earlier this week he ruled that the government could not hold repeated votes on the same issue without substantive changes.

The government will hope that Tusk’s statement will be sufficient to satisfy Bercow’s demand.

After that, there’s the question of persuading MPs to support the deal.

Theresa May lost her first meaningful vote by a historic margin of 230 in January, and lost her second last week by 149.

May faces an uphill challenge to pass the deal a third time – 75 MPs will have to change their minds. The Prime Minister will hope that the looming and clear threat of no deal will force opposition MPs to support her deal.

The trouble is, there’s a small group of hardcore Brexit-supporting MPs on her own side who would be happy to see the UK crash out without a deal – a clean break from the EU with no complications. Quite how she persuades them to get onside is unclear.

No decision on extension from Macron before EU summit

French President Emmanuel Macron won’t make a decision on Theresa May’s extension request before Thursday’s European Council meeting in Brussels, according to a spokeswoman for the Elysee.

The spokeswoman added that a report by Le Point magazine, which claimed the French President would reject any Brexit delay, “was wrong.”

 Le Point has since corrected its report.  

Tusk: Short Brexit delay possible, but conditional

Donald Tusk has said a short delay to Brexit is possible, but will be conditional on the House of Commons passing the Withdrawal Agreement.

“The question remains open as to the duration of such an extension,” Tusk, the President of the European Council, said.

Tusk said he spoke to Theresa May on the phone earlier this afternoon.

“May’s proposal of the 30 June, which has its merits, creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature,” he added. “Leaders will discuss this tomorrow.”

Donald Tusk speaking now

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, is giving a press conference in Brussels.

MPs surprised by "downright reckless" strategy, Starmer says

Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has opened the emergency debate into the Brexit delay by quoting Theresa May’s de facto deputy David Lidington, who said last week that if May’s divorce deal was not passed by parliament, seeking “a short and, critically, one-off extension would be downright reckless.”

Starmer says those statements led MPs to believe that May would request a long extension if she hadn’t passed her plan – but May has asked for a delay only until June 30.

He adds that the confusion is symptomatic of May’s Brexit strategy to date – to “put parliament as far away as possible from the process.”

Speaker grants emergency debate on delay

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has granted an application from Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer for an emergency debate on the Brexit delay.

If the debate goes to a vote and is passed by MPs, it would force Theresa May to change the wording of her letter to the EU and ask for a longer Brexit extension, rather than a short one.

Bercow, who stunned Westminster on Monday by ruling that May cannot bring back her Withdrawal Agreement for another vote unless it is substantially different, said emergency debates usually happen the following day, but given the circumstance he would allow it to begin soon.

No Brexit delay without credible strategy: French FM

France will veto Britain’s request to delay Brexit beyond March 29, unless Theresa May can demonstrate she has a credible plan to get her deal through parliament, according to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

“We want to send the British a simple and clear message – and Theresa May has said this in the past – there are only two options re leaving the European Union: ratify the deal or leave without an agreement,” Le Drian added.

Here's what today's Brexit confusion means

The day began with anger. Officials in the UK and across Europe could not quite believe that Theresa May had blindsided them, requesting a short delay to the Brexit process (to June 30), rather than the long extension that had been expected.

Precisely why a longer delay had become so commonly accepted is a question worth asking. May never committed to one; neither did Parliament when it voted on a delay to Brexit last week.

Nevertheless, talk of an extension up to two years swirled – as did speculation about to how it such a delay could be seized upon politicians across the spectrum, and the continent. So when Downing Street confirmed that this was not the case, there was total meltdown. 

Fury then turned to confusion. There were reports that the House of Commons would force May to apply also for a longer extension. And there was confusion on the EU side, amid talk that the EU could flat-out reject May’s request for an extension. 

Into all of this waded European Commission, the body that dictates the political direction of the EU, with an advisory note stating that the choice about a Brexit delay was binary. A short extension would need to end before May 23, it said, otherwise a longer extension would need to go way beyond.

Why is that date significant? May 23 is the date that elections take place to the European Parliament, and the EU believes that if the UK is still a member state at that time, it is legally obliged to take part in those elections. The UK, apparently, disagrees: Theresa May told the Commons that she does not want the UK to take part in those elections, however believes that any such extension could carry on until June 30, the day before the new session of the European Parliament begins.

All that leaves open the question of whether EU leaders will throw out May’s request, or suggest something else. At no point in the Brexit process has the EU’s next move been so unpredictable. 

Arguably, the most important question of today is whether any of this actually matters. Another date, far less talked about, is April 11, which is thought to be the day by which the UK will need to pass legislation allowing it take part in the European elections. That’s a lot earlier than May 23 and June 30.

The UK could be forced to sort its Brexit mess out sooner than it thinks.

This post has been updated to correct the date of European elections.

$1.3 trillion and 7,000 finance jobs are leaving Britain because of Brexit

As the UK flirts with a no-deal Brexit in nine days’ time, a new report has outlined the financial impact the country has already taken since voting to leave the EU in 2016.

Financial services companies in Britain have announced plans to move £1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) into the European Union, according to consultancy EY. That’s up from an earlier estimate of £800 billion ($1.1 trillion).

Many banks have set up new offices in Germany, France, Ireland and other EU countries to safeguard their regional business after Brexit. That means they also have to move substantial assets there to satisfy EU regulators.

The number of jobs that will be relocated out of the United Kingdom in the near future stands at 7,000, according to EY. It estimates that will cost Britain at least £600 million ($794 million) in lost taxes.

Read more here.

May's extension request solves nothing, German foreign minister says

There are signs of exasperation in EU capitals about the wording of Theresa May’s letter to the EU, asking for a three-month extension to the Brexit process. “Nothing has been solved with Theresa May’s letter,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

Maas added there would be a decision on Thursday regarding the request by the UK to delay Brexit, but said the EU wants to know “where this goes.” 

Brexit and Trump are "victories for our enemies," EU Parliament chief says

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit coordinator, has responded to Donald Trump Jr.’s op-ed in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, which likened the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum to the election of his father as US President later that year.

Verhofstadt said both polls had been subject to “external manipulation” and both “have torn apart communities instead of bringing them together.”

Trump Jr. wrote that if Brexit was delayed, it would represent the death of democracy in the UK. He blamed “elites” who “control Britain from Brussels.”

“In a way, you could say that Brexit and my father’s election are one and the same – the people of both the UK and the US voted to uproot the establishment for the sake of individual freedom and independence, only to see the establishment try to silence their voices and overturn their mandates,” Trump Jr. added.

Did Theresa May suggest she would resign?

Some commentators have interpreted a line in May’s letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, which she repeated at Prime Minister’s Questions, as a threat to resign if Brexit is subject to anything more than a short delay. This is the quote in question:

The suggestion is that this implies that May will resign if, for any reason, the UK is forced to delay the Brexit process beyond that date.

Former Labour cabinet minister and pro-Remain campaigner Andrew Adonis is pretty clear about what she meant.

The political editor of HuffPost UK, Paul Waugh, said he’d asked the Prime Minister’s official spokesman about the comments.

That’s not a denial.