Britain is likely to be forced into delaying its March 29 exit from the European Union if parliament rejects Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal later this month, junior justice minister Rory Stewart told Sky News on Sunday.
May has promised to bring a revised deal back to parliament by March 12, and if legislators reject it they will be given an opportunity to vote to leave without a deal or to extend the Article 50 negotiating period.
“I think we would have to be forced into an extension of Article 50,” Stewart said when asked which option he would choose if May’s deal is rejected. “There doesn’t seem to be parliamentary majority for ‘no deal’.”
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar also told Cabinet colleagues that a delay of Britain’s exit date from the EU is “very likely”, Ireland’s Sunday Independent quoted an unnamed minister as saying.
“The Taoiseach (prime minister) has privately said to us that it is very likely there will be an extension until June,” the minister was quoted as saying.
However, any extension to the article 50 negotiating period will have to be requested by the UK and can only be implemented with the unanimous agreement of the 28 European members.
French president Emmanuel Macron has insisted it will only accept a delay with a good reason for it.
”The withdrawal agreement cannot be renegotiated,” Macron said after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris, last week.
“If the British need more time, we could consider an extension request only if it is justified by a new choice of the British, but we would in no way accept an extension without a clear perspective on the objective being pursued,” he added.
With just 26 days until Britain is due to leave the 28-member EU, May is making last-ditch efforts to win concessions from the bloc on the divorce package, brokered after months of arduous negotiations between London and Brussels.
The EU has ruled out reopening the withdrawal agreement, though both sides are looking at a possible legal addendum to reassure MPs who worry the controversial Irish border backstop clause could keep Britain trapped in the EU’s orbit for years to come.
The mechanism would guarantee no re-establishment of a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event that post-Brexit trade negotiations between the UK and the EU prove unsuccessful.
European Council President Donald Tusk said last week on Monday the EU was open to Britain postponing its exit from the bloc beyond March 29, adding he had discussed the “legal and procedural context of a potential extension” when he met Sunday with May on the sidelines of an EU-Arab summit in Egypt.
“I believe in the situation we are in, an extension would be a rational solution but Prime Minister May still believes she’s able to avoid this scenario,” Tusk told a closing summit press conference.
May has repeatedly ruled out delaying Brexit, arguing it would not solve the ongoing impasse shrouding British politics.