Brexit news: Theresa May has issued a Brexit challenge to MPs
Striking a defiant tone after controversially agreeing a Brexit delay that could last until Hallowe’en, the Prime Minister vowed to launch a fresh attempt to win Commons backing for her Withdrawal Agreement shortly after Easter. She also infuriated Brexiteer Tories by signalling that her Brexit talks with Labour were edging towards a cross-party plan for close customs links with the EU. “Let us then resolve to find a way through this impasse so that we can leave the European Union with a deal as soon as possible,” she told MPs shortly before meeting Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at Westminster to pave the way for further cross-party negotiations over the coming days.
“This is our national duty as elected members of this House – and nothing today is more pressing or more vital,” she added.
Her appeal to MPs to put patriotism before party allegiances came as she updated the Commons on Wednesday night’s marathon seven-hour EU summit talks that rubber stamped a flexible extension of the Article 50 EU exit process until October 31 at the latest.
Tory Brexiteers, furious that the Prime Minister agreed to delay the country’s withdrawal from the EU rather than opt for a no-deal Brexit, directly confronted in the Commons.
Veteran Eurosceptic backbencher Sir William Cash, chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, accused her of “abject surrender” to Brussels and urged her to quit.
“Does the Prime Minister appreciate the anger that her abject surrender has generated across the country?” he asked, going on to break a promise made around 100 times not to extend Brexit.
He claimed the delay undermined democracy and “our right to govern ourselves”, adding: “Would she resign?”
Mrs May laughed off his jibe, saying: “I think he knows the answer to that!”
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker questioned whether the Prime Minister was prepared to be propped up by Labour votes, asking: “Will she now be seeking the confidence of the Labour Party.”
Peter Bone, another leading Tory Brexiteer, demanded to know how Mrs May intended to “honour” a previous pledge not to “consider” a Brexit delay beyond June 30.
And Mark Francois, deputy chairman of the European Research Group, accused the Prime Minister of “sheer obstinacy”.
But other Tory MPs praised the Prime Minister for agreeing the Brexit delay to avoid a no-deal departure from the EU today under a previous deadline set by Brussels.
Former minister Sir Oliver Heald backed her cross-party talks with Labour and urged her to “keep going”, adding: “Many of us feel it’s time to get this done.”
In her statement on the delay decision taken by the 27 other EU leaders at their emergency gathering in Brussels, the Prime Minister said: “My priority is to deliver Brexit and to do so in an orderly way that does not disrupt people’s lives.
“I continue to believe we need to leave the European Union with a deal as soon as possible.”
Brexit news: Theresa May yesterday agreed to a Brexit delay
Mrs May admitted the extension to October 31 was a “compromise” between her own desire for a short delay until June 30 and a longer period of up to a year pushed by EU Council President Donald Tusk and other leaders at the summit.
She pointed out that under the agreed delay the UK could leave the bloc at 11pm on May 31 if Parliament approves her exit deal by May 22.
That timetable would mean the UK would not stage elections for a new cohort of British MEPs to sit in the European Parliament, she said.
“The choices we face are stark and the timetable is clear.
“I believe we must now press on at pace with our efforts to reach a consensus on a deal that is in the national interest,” the Prime Minister told MPs.
Mrs May said talks with Labour will continue in the coming days while Parliament takes a break over Easter.
“This is not the normal way of British politics – and it is uncomfortable for many in both the Government and Opposition parties,” the Prime Minister told MPs.
Theresa May’s fate as Prime Minister hangs in the balance
“Reaching an agreement will not be easy, because to be successful it will require both sides to make compromises.
“But however challenging it may be politically, I profoundly believe that in this unique situation where the House is deadlocked, it is incumbent on both front benches to seek to work together to deliver what the British people voted for.
“And I think that the British people expect their politicians to do just that when the national interest demands it.”
She indicated that the Government could “soon” introduce legislation to enshrine the Withdrawal Agreement into Parliament.
“If we want to get on with leaving, we need to start this process soon,” she said.
She added: “I know the whole country is intensely frustrated that this process to leave the European Union has not still been completed.
“I never wanted to seek this extension – and I deeply regret that we have not yet been able to secure agreement in this House for a deal that would allow us to leave in a smooth and orderly way.
“I know too that this whole debate is putting Members on all sides of the House under immense pressure and causing uncertainty across the country and we need to resolve this.”
She urged MPs to use Parliament’s Easter break as an opportunity to “reflect on the decisions that will have to be made swiftly on our return after Easter.”
In response to the Prime Minister’s statement, Mr Corbyn said: “The second extension in the space of a fortnight represents not only a diplomatic failure, but it is another milestone in the Government’s mishandling of the entire Brexit process.”
In exchanges with MPs, the Prime Minister indicated that she was edging towards an agreement on a cross-party plan for close customs arrangements with Brussels.
“I think there is actually more agreement in relation to a customs union than is often given credit for when different language is used,” she said.
Mrs May and Mr Corbyn met in Parliament yesterday as their aides set out a schedule for more cross-party Brexit talks.
“Both sides agreed to continue talks in an effort to make substantive progress towards finding a compromise plan,” a Labour spokesman said.
A No 10 source the talks so far had been “valuable” but added: “Bluntly, we won’t continue to talk for the sake of it.”
Mrs May said that if they could not agree