Theresa May to ask for Brexit delay, 1,000 days since referendum

19 March 2019, 22:51 | Updated: 20 March 2019, 04:13

Theresa May is preparing to formally ask the EU to delay Brexit, 1,000 days since Britons voted to leave the EU.

The prime minister will on Wednesday send a letter to Brussels revealing her preference for either a short or long extension of Article 50 - the legal mechanism to take the UK out of the bloc.

But she could face a potential cabinet split, and the threat that such a request will be rejected.

With just nine days until 29 March - the Brexit date Mrs May promised for years - she has not yet convinced MPs to ratify her deal.

But after Brexiteers and Remainers united to vote it down for a second time last week, cabinet ministers broke the government whip and the Speaker barred another vote on the same agreement, Mrs May promised to formally write a letter asking Brussels for a Brexit delay.

She will follow it up with a trip to the Belgian capital on Thursday for a summit with EU leaders.

The move threatens to tear her government apart, Bloomberg reporting pro-Brexit ministers met on Tuesday night to plan how they could block a long delay.

They have been left none the wiser about Mrs May's intentions, with Sky sources saying the prime minister refused to reveal her decision in a meeting earlier that day.

House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, who was also Mrs May's rival in the Tory leadership contest that catapulted her into the top job, is understood to have told colleagues: "This used to be the cabinet that would deliver Brexit, and now from what I'm hearing it's not."

There were reports the prime minister could request a short and a long delay, with the option to pull Britain out of the EU whenever a deal is eventually ratified.

But Brussels' chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has torpedoed that idea, saying: "It's either one or the other."

He also warned a Brexit delay would not be approved "without a good reason", and urged people to "finalise all preparations" for a no-deal divorce.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney also said: "I think people would be very foolish to assume that this is just some kind of political game and that an extension will automatically be facilitated."

EU leaders will decide later this week, or at a special summit next week, how to respond to the request.

But Mrs May already believes the stalemate has left Britain in "crisis", Downing Street has admitted.

Asked whether she agreed with the word used by the solicitor general, the prime minister's spokesperson said she had predicted a "moment of crisis" and that recent events "tell you that situation has come to pass".