Prime Minister Theresa May will ask the European Union for yet another delay to Britain’s departure from the trading bloc to give her time to sit down with the opposition Labour Party in a bid to avoid a looming hard Brexit.
Ms May’s willingness to meet with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn signals a major departure from her steadfast adherence to her unpopular Brexit deal and could lead to a softer departure, including remaining in a European free-customs group.
Nearly three years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU in a shock referendum result, British politics is in crisis and it is unclear how, when or if it will ever leave the European club it first joined in 1973.
Ms May’s Brexit deal has been roundly defeated three times in the House of Commons, and despite a series of debates and votes, UK MPs have been unable to agree on an alternate strategy.
Britain was originally due to leave the EU on March 29 before negotiating a delay until April 12. If no Brexit strategy is agreed to by that date, the UK could be forced to cut ties with Europe without a deal.
In a hastily arranged statement from her Downing Street office after spending more than seven hours chairing crisis cabinet meetings on how to plot a way out of the Brexit maze, Ms May said she was seeking a further extension to Brexit.
“We will need a further extension of Article 50, one that is as short as possible and which ends when we pass a deal. And we need to be clear what such an extension is for, to ensure we leave in a timely and orderly way,” the Prime Minister said.
“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 ensure that we leave the European Union and that we do so with a deal,” she added.
Ms May said that if she could not agree a unified approach with Mr Corbyn, the UK government would agree a number of options on the future relationship with the EU and put them before the House of Commons in a series of votes.
The government, she said, would then abide by the decision of the House of Commons.