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by Tom Freeman and Matt Foster
11 April 2019
Brexit delayed until Halloween

European Council - PA

Brexit delayed until Halloween

The UK will not now leave the European Union tomorrow after the member nations gave the UK a six-month extension to 31 October.

After over five hours of talks in Brussels, EU leaders granted Theresa May more time but warned her not to "waste time" in her attempt to get MPs to agree on an exit plan.

The Prime Minister had asked for a shorter delay until June, but the new offer will be "flexible", so if a withdrawal agreement is ratified by MPs the UK can leave earlier.

It is now expected that the UK will take part in the European parliament election next month.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: "There will probably be a European election in the UK - that might seem a bit odd, but rules are rules and we must respect European law and then we will see what happens."

May said she wanted to leave "as soon as possible", and again called for MPs to back the deal she negotiated with the EU based on her red lines which has been rejected several times.

She said if Parliament backed her deal "in the first three weeks of May" the UK would leave on 1 June.

The Prime Minister also acknowledged that there would be "huge frustration" at the delay.

"The UK should have left the EU by now and I sincerely regret the fact that I have not yet been able to persuade Parliament to approve a deal which would allow the UK to leave in a smooth and orderly way," she said. 

But she refused to apologise for the new timetable when pressed by reporters, instead pointing the finger at MPs for refusing to back her deal.

"Over the last three months I have voted three times to leave the European Union," she said.

"If sufficient members of Parliament had voted with me in January we would already be out of the European Union.

"We haven't been able to get the majority in Parliament. As you know I have been reaching out to find a way in which we can get an agreement that will command a majority across the House of Commons."

Speaking to reporters as the new deadline was unveiled, European Council president Donald Tusk said the outcome of the next six months was "entirely in the UK's hands".

"It can still ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, in which case the extension will be terminated," he said.

"It can also reconsider the whole Brexit strategy. That might lead to changes in the Political Declaration, but not in the Withdrawal Agreement.

"Until the end of this period, the UK will also have the possibility to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit altogether."

And he added: "Let me finish with a message to our British friends: this extension is as flexible as I expected, and a little bit shorter than I expected, but it's still enough to find the best possible solution. Please do not waste this time."

It is thought most EU leaders wanted the UK to have a longer extention, but French President Emmanuel Macron objected.

Speaking after the summit, Macron said: "It's true that the majority was more in favour of a very long extension.

"But it was not logical in my view, and above all, it was neither good for us, nor for the UK."

He added: "I take responsibility for this position, I think it's for the collective good."

Scotland's First minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: "It is a relief that - thanks to the patience of the EU - we will not be crashing out tomorrow. But the UK must not waste this time - allowing people to decide if they still want to leave is now imperative. And Scotland’s interests must be protected."

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