Europe

'I'm on your side': Theresa May urges MPs to back her Brexit deal

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Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday she remained "determined" to deliver Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May says she remained "determined" to deliver Brexit, hours after formally requesting European Union leaders grant a three-month delay to Britain's departure from the bloc.

The PM addressed the nation on Thursday, after the EU announced it could  grant Britain's request for the short Brexit delay if parliament votes next week in favour of a stalled departure deal.

Theresa May addresses the nation.
Theresa May addresses the nation.
SBS News

She acknowledged that voters were "tired of the infighting, the arcane procedural rows... tired of MPs talking about nothing but Brexit".

"I passionately hope MPs will find a way to back the deal I have negotiated with the EU," she said, referring to an agreement British MPs have already rejected twice but which Ms May plans to put to another vote.

"You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with.

"I am on your side - I’m not prepared to delay Brexit any further than the 30th of June."

She has asked the European Union to allow Britain to delay its departure date by three months to June 30, and EU leaders are expected to discuss the matter at a summit on Thursday.

Ms May now heads to Brussels for an EU leaders summit Thursday and Friday, where she will hope to secure a possible addition to her agreement that will let her put it to a vote next week. 

European Council President Donald Tusk said it would be possible to grant Britain a short postponement if parliament next week backs Ms May's divorce agreement, which it has already been voted down twice.

British Prime Minister Theresa May says she is not prepared to delay Brexit further than June 30.
British Prime Minister Theresa May says she is not prepared to delay Brexit further than June 30.
AAP

Should that happen, Mr Tusk said no extraordinary EU leaders' summit would be needed next week before the current Brexit date of March 29. Otherwise, he might call another summit.

"I believe that a short extension will be possible, but it will be conditional on a positive vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons," Mr Tusk told journalists on Wednesday.

Donald Tusk
Donald Tusk is open to putting back Brexit but has questioned the length of the requested delay. (AAP)
AP

Ms May's spokesman said Mr Tusk's comments were in keeping with her request for a short delay.

She herself told a rowdy session of parliament on Wednesday that she could not countenance the prospect of a long delay - which could give time for notional alternative approaches to emerge, but would infuriate Brexit supporters in her own party.

Even if the hope for final success may seem frail, even illusory, and although Brexit fatigue is increasingly visible and justified, we cannot give up seeking - until the very last moment - a positive solution. #euco

— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) March 20, 2019

If Ms May cannot win over enough reluctant MPs to pass her deal next week, Britain faces the choice of requesting a longer delay or leaving the EU as planned on March 29 - without a deal to cushion the economic upheaval.

Ms May said any postponement beyond the end of June would undermine voters' trust.

"It is high time we made a decision" on leaving, she said in her address.

However, the European Commission advised EU leaders that it would be preferable to either have a shorter delay to May 23 - when voting begins in European Parliament elections - or a much longer one, until at least the end of 2019.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed London's "clear request" and said she would "make every effort" to bring about an agreement at the Brussels summit.

But her foreign minister Heiko Maas of the junior coalition partner Social Democrats said May's letter "only pushes the solution further down the road".

Some EU states, including Germany, had given a largely positive response to Ms May's well-flagged request.

And in Paris, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had a tough message. 

"Our position is to send the British a clear and simple message. As Theresa May has repeatedly said herself, there are only two options to get out of the EU: ratify the Withdrawal Agreement or exit without a deal," Le Drian told the French parliament.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
AAP

Ms May's initiative marked the latest twist in more than two years of negotiations that have left British politics in chaos and her authority in tatters.

After the defeats in parliament opened up the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal, Ms May told parliament on Wednesday that she remained committed to leaving "in an orderly manner".

Her announcement that she was asking for a three-month delay caused uproar in the chamber.

The opposition Labour Party accused her of "blackmail, bullying and bribery" in her attempts to push her deal through, and one prominent Brexit supporter in her own Conservative Party said seeking a delay was "betraying the British people".

The pound fell on the uncertainty surrounding the potential delay and the fact that a no-deal Brexit remained possible.

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