BRUSSELS – The conditional postponement of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union agreed with the European Council on Thursday means that British members of parliament must choose between supporting the government’s Brexit deal or participating in upcoming European parliamentary elections, British Prime Minister Theresa May said.
The agreement with the 27 remaining EU members would postpone Brexit, initially set for March 29, until May 22, provided that the British parliament approves May’s proposal, which has already been rejected twice, in a vote next week. If the House again rejects her deal, Britain would have until April 12 to come up with an alternative plan.
At a midnight press conference in Brussels following “lengthy discussions” with the European Council, the prime minister warned MPs that any delay beyond April 12 would mean taking part in the European Parliament elections in May.
“I believe strongly that it would be wrong to ask people in the UK to participate in these elections three years after voting to leave the EU,” May said.
EU leaders had initially rejected her request for a longer extension until June 30, citing the UK’s decision not to take part in the European polls.
Several heads of government and senior EU officials have said in recent days that they see no point in granting a longer extension in the absence of what French President Emmanuel Macron called “deep political change” in the UK.
Following a referendum in June 2016 which favored the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, May invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which outlines a two-year period to draw up the terms of the departure. The deadline for that period is March 29.
The prime minister said that the EU’s decision to delay Article 50 underlined the importance of the House of Commons approving the deal next week “so we can bring an end to the uncertainty and leave in a smooth and orderly manner.”
May said she would return to London on Friday to drum up support to get her deal through, after twice seeing it rejected by overwhelming majorities.
She tried to have lawmakers vote for a third time on her Brexit agreement before this week’s EU summit, but the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, invoked a centuries-old rule barring repeat votes on the same measure during the same parliamentary session.
He said he would only agree to a third vote if the bill were substantially changed.
Despite the apparent impasse, the prime minister urged MPs to approve her proposal to avoid leaving the bloc without a deal or having to put forward candidates for the European elections.
“We are now at the moment of decision, and I will make every effort to ensure that we are able to leave with a deal and move our country forward,” May said.