Belfast Telegraph

Theresa May to seek further Brexit extension, Corbyn agrees to hold talks with PM

Theresa May has said she will be seeking a further extension to Article 50 beyond April 12 and wants to agree a plan with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to find a way forward, but it will have to include her Withdrawal Agreement.

The Labour leader said he would be "very happy" to meet the Prime Minister in a bid to offer "certainty and security" to the British people.

Speaking following a marathon crisis meeting with her Cabinet, the Prime Minister said that while the UK could, in the long term, "make a success of no-deal", leaving with a deal is the "best solution".

"We will need a further extension to Article 50, one that is as short as possible, and which ends when we pass a deal," she said.

"And we need to be clear what such an extension is for - to ensure we leave in a timely and orderly way. This debate, this division, cannot drag on much longer. It is putting members of Parliament and everyone else under immense pressure and it is doing damage to our politics."

Mrs May said she would try to strike a compromise deal with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn but said it would have to include her current deal.

The Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement has already been resoundingly rejected by MPs three times.

Any extension to Article 50 would have to be approved by the EU's 27 leaders at a European Council summit next week.

She said: "Today I'm taking action to break the logjam.

"I'm offering to sit down with the leader of the opposition and try to agree a plan that we would both stick to to ensure we leave the EU and we do so with a deal.

"Any plan would have to agree the current Withdrawal Agreement - it has already been negotiated with the 27 other members and the EU has repeatedly said it cannot and will not be re-opened."

This is a decisive moment in the story of these islands and it requires national unity to deliver the national interest. Theresa May

Mrs May said, if a "single, unified approach" could not be agreed with Mr Corbyn, then they would move to "a number of options for the future relationship we could put to the House in a series of votes to determine which course to pursue".

"Crucially the Government stands ready to abide by the decision of the House but to make this process work the Opposition would need to agree to this too."

She said a Withdrawal Agreement Bill should be agreed by MPs before May 22 "so the UK need not take part in European Parliamentary elections".

She added: "We can and must find the compromises that will deliver what the British people voted for.

"This is a decisive moment in the story of these islands and it requires national unity to deliver the national interest."

In response, Jeremy Corbyn said he would be "very happy" to meet Mrs May.

He said: "We recognise that she has made a move, I recognise my responsibility to represent the people that supported Labour in the last election and the people who didn't support Labour but nevertheless want certainty and security for their own future and that's the basis on which we will meet her and we will have those discussions.

"However people voted in the referendum in 2016, whether they voted remain or they voted leave, they didn't vote for lower living standards, they didn't vote to lose their jobs.

"And actually there's far more that unites people on both sides about the kind of society we can be than divides them."

Mr Corbyn also said he would not set any "limits" ahead of the meeting with the Prime Minister, but that his principles ahead of it were to recognise the "needs of the people that elected all MPs to Parliament and the need to avoid the dangers of crashing out".

He also warned that Labour would "hold in reserve" the option of tabling a confidence motion in the Government if it "proves it is incapable of commanding a majority in the House of Commons".

He said the question of whether the UK takes part in the EU elections was not the most important question, rather that the most important issue was "to make sure we don't crash out of the EU next week with no deal, and what I believe would be a degree of chaos that would follow as a result".

The PM's statement came just hours after a cross-party group of MPs launched a bid to force her to stop a no-deal exit by tabling a bill requiring her to extend the negotiation process beyond April 12.

In a Tweet following the statement, EU Council President Donald Tusk called for patience.

"Even if, after today, we don't know what the end result will be, let us be patient," he said.

The European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: "Good that PM @theresa_may is looking for a cross-party compromise. Better late than never. #brexit."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he was glad the Prime Minister has "decided to ditch the ERG and DUP" version of Brexit.

"Really important now that we see real leadership from across the Westminster parliament," he added.

"The bottom line is still clear - the Good Friday Agreement and frictionless border needs to be protected."

Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion said it is clear the Government and Parliament has "no plan, no strategy and no clue what it is doing".

“Theresa May had said she will ask for an extension but it cannot be an extension for no reason," she added.

“The British Parliament cannot continue to keep talking to itself about fantasy options that aren’t on the table.

“The only way to avoid a crash out is the Withdrawal Agreement. That is not open for renegotiation. The DUP and British parliament need to realise this.”

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