UK Prime Minister Theresa May has written to European Council president Donald Tusk requesting a further extension of Article 50 to 30 June.
It was reported this morning that Tusk may be prepared to offer the UK a “flextension”, or flexible extension, whereby Article 50 could be extended for up to a year but the UK could retain the option to leave the EU earlier if MPs can agree on a deal.
May’s letter to Tusk acknowledges that the Prime Minister’s proposed extension could see the UK participate in the European elections later this year, saying: “It remains the Government’s view that, despite this request to extend the Article 50 period, it is in the interests of neither the United Kingdom as a departing Member State, nor the European Union as a whole, that the United Kingdom holds elections to the European Parliament. However, the United Kingdom accepts the European Council’s view that if the United Kingdom were still a Member State of the European Union on 23 May 2019, it would be under a legal obligation to hold the elections. The Government is therefore undertaking the lawful and responsible preparations for this contingency, including by making the Order that sets the date of the poll.”
After a seven-hour meeting with cabinet ministers on Tuesday, Theresa May announced she would request a “short” extension to Article 50 and reach out to Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn to try and reach an accord on her proposed withdrawal agreement, which has now failed to attain a majority vote in the House of Commons three times. Discussions between May and Corbyn have so far failed to produce an agreement. Junior minister for Wales Nigel Adams resigned on Wednesday, saying May’s decision to cooperate with Corbyn was a “grave error”; he was followed by Chris Heaton-Harris, the sixth member of the Department for Exiting the European Union to resign his post in the last year.
MPs voted on Wednesday night to pass a bill tabled by Labour backbencher Yvette Cooper and Conservative Oliver Letwin, which would compel the Prime Minister to request a further extension to Article 50 in order to avoid a no-deal-Brexit, by a majority of one vote. The bill must now be approved in the House of Lords in order to pass into law. A motion to hold a third series of indicative votes on Monday, 8 April, was initially tied with 310 votes for and 310 against; but was rejected after Speaker of the House John Bercow cast the deciding vote – the first time the Speaker has had to cast a tiebreaking vote in the House of Commons since 1993.
The online petition calling on Parliament to revoke Article 50 has now attained more than six million signatures: as any petition on the parliamentary petitions website which gains more than 100,000 signatures earns the right to be debated by MPs, the Article 50 petition was discussed on Monday in Parliament’s Westminster Hall; despite the government’s response, issued last week, stating that it had no plans to revoke Article 50. Labour MP Catherine McKinnell said the petition represented “a reflection of level of interest in this issue and strength of feeling from the public…this petition is a roar.” Only five Conservative MPs took part in the debate.
Monday’s indicative votes covered a range of options for the UK’s ongoing journey out of the EU, including a customs union; a motion nicknamed “Common Market 2.0” which would see the UK retain membership of the European Economic Area and European Free Trade Association (Efta), the single market and a “comprehensive” customs arrangement; a “confirmatory public vote”; and a motion calling for a further extension to Article 50 with MPs voting on a no-deal Brexit and the potential revocation of Article 50. None of the motions achieved a majority vote.
Conservative MP Nick Boles, who was a driving force behind the motion calling for a Common Market 2.0 arrangement, resigned as a member of the Conservative party after the results were read out, saying: “I have given everything to an attempt to find a compromise that can take this country out of the European Union while maintaining our economic strength and our political cohesion. I accept I have failed. I have failed chiefly because my party refuses to compromise. I regret, therefore, to announce that I can no longer sit for this party.” Boles will continue to sit in the House of Commons as an independent MP.
It was reported on Tuesday that pro-Brexit campaigners had attempted to disrupt travel in March by leaving “disruptive” devices on train tracks in Yaxley, Cambridgeshire and Netherfield, Nottinghamshire with the stated aim of “bring[ing] Britain to a standstill”. The devices were intended to stop trains unnecessarily by sending a false signal that a train was already on the line; but were ineffective as the line had been upgraded in accordance with EU standards.