European Union 'ready to delay Article 50’ as MPs prepare for Brexit vote
Reports claim the bloc could reopen exit talks if a clear parliamentary consensus emerges in Westminster.
The European Union is braced for a request from Theresa May to delay Brexit until at least July, according to reports.
Ahead of a crucial vote on the prime minister's withdrawal agreement tomorrow, both The Guardian and The Times cite Brussels diplomatic sources who say they are ready for Britain to extend the Article 50 process, which is due to run out on 29 March.
MPs will vote on the Brexit deal on Tuesday night, with the prime minister expected to suffer a heavy defeat.
According to The Guardian, European Council president Donald Tusk is poised to convene a special EU summit to delay Britain's Brexit date – with a "technical" extension until July likely to allow the prime minister to test the mood in the House of Commons again and then revise the withdrawal agreement.
An EU official told the paper: "Should the prime minister survive and inform us that she needs more time to win round parliament to a deal, a technical extension up to July will be offered."
However, such a move could mean the UK having to take part in the European Parliament elections due in May.
Another official said: "The first session of the (European) Parliament is in July. You would need UK MEPs there if the country is still a member state. But things are not black and white in the European Union."
Meanwhile The Times reports that EU officials believe the government now does not have the time it needs left to pass crucial legislation required to make Brexit happen by the current exit day.
"The British government will not admit it or ask for an extension yet but its own legislative timetable is at least a month behind based on what we have been told," a senior EU diplomat told the paper.
"We are ready for another political drama over extension at least on the same scale as parliamentary turbulence over the Irish backstop in the withdrawal agreement."
According to The Times, which cites "multiple" Brussels sources, the EU could be willing to give further legal assurances on the Northern Ireland backstop and even reopen talks on the wider agreement if a clear parliamentary consensus on Brexit emerges after tomorrow's vote.
But one EU official predicts that extending Article 50 will prompt a "political sh*t storm" in Britain given a tumultuous few months in the House of Commons.
The reports came as May prepared to warn MPs that voting against her deal would be "catastrophic" for democracy.
In a speech in Stoke – where 69% of voters backed Leave in 2016 – the prime minister will say today: "I ask MPs to consider the consequences of their actions on the faith of the British people in our democracy.
"Imagine if an anti-devolution House of Commons had said to the people of Scotland or Wales that despite voting in favour of a devolved legislature, parliament knew better and would over-rule them. Or else force them to vote again.
"What if we found ourselves in a situation where parliament tried to take the UK out of the EU in opposition to a Remain vote? People’s faith in the democratic process and their politicians would suffer catastrophic harm.
"We all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum."
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