London, United Kingdom | AFP | British Prime Minister Theresa May faced a cabinet revolt if she asked the EU for a long delay to Brexit, media reports said Wednesday, even after she had warned MPs of such a possibility.
Downing Street confirmed that May would be asking EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday to delay Britain’s March 29 exit day by only a short period, saying voters wanted to get on with Brexit.
The decision followed a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, where several Brexit-supporting ministers reportedly indicated they might quit if the delay was long.
Any delay can only be decided by EU leaders.
One source was reported as saying that the divisions at the top of British government made it feel “like the last days of Rome”.
May herself has repeatedly said she does not want to delay Brexit, but has conceded this is highly likely given the parliamentary deadlock over the process.
MPs have twice rejected the divorce deal she struck with Brussels, and also ruled out leaving the EU with no deal.
Last week, they agreed to allow her to try again to get her deal through this week, on the condition that if she succeeded, she would seek a three-month delay to Brexit to ratify the treaty.
But the proposal they backed also said that if there was no deal approved by the EU summit, Brussels would likely demand a lengthy extension so London could rethink its strategy.
May’s deputy, David Lidington, had warned that without a deal, “seeking such a short and, critically, one-off extension would be downright reckless and completely at odds with the position that this House adopted”.
Speaking last week, he said the EU would be unlikely to accept such a proposal, adding that it would make the prospect of leaving with no deal on March 29 “far more” likely.
In the end, May was blocked from holding a vote this week by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow.
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, a Brexit-supporting member of May’s cabinet, admitted on Wednesday there were “different views” among ministers on the way forward.
She told LBC radio: “I know the prime minister is extremely frustrated by the decision of parliament to rule out leaving on March 29.
“She remains determined to take us out of the EU and so I’m quite sure it will only be a short extension.”
However, she acknowledged: “I will be for the EU 27 to decide.”