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Brexit: EU leaders could block delayed withdrawal

European Parliament’s Guy Verhofstadt
European Parliament’s Guy Verhofstadt

By Andrew Woodcock

The European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator has cast doubt on the European Commission's desire to allow an extension to Article 50 while Parliament still appears to be in "deadlock".

Guy Verhofstadt was tweeting after MPs voted to delay Brexit beyond March 29 in parliamentary scenes which saw the Conservative Party split down the middle.

But Mr Verhofstadt tweeted afterwards: "Why EUCO (EU Commission) should allow an extension if the UK Gov and her majority in the House of Commons are not ready for a cross-party approach to break the current deadlock?"

Earlier, In response to European Council president Donald Tusk's suggestion that he could appeal to EU leaders for a "long extension" to Article 50, Mr Verhofstadt tweeted: "Under no circumstances an extension in the dark!

"Unless there is a clear majority in the House of Commons for something precise, there is no reason at all for the European Council to agree on a prolongation.

"Even the motion tabled for this evening by the UK Gov recognises this."

Yesterday, more than half of Tory MPs - including seven Cabinet ministers, at least 33 other ministers and whips and five party vice-chairs - voted against Theresa May's motion to put back the date of the UK's exit from the EU.

All 10 of Mrs May's DUP allies opposed the delay.

Chief Whip Julian Smith abstained, with sources suggesting he did so in order to be able to "broker peace going forward".

Among those voting in the opposite lobby to the Prime Minister was Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, who had opened the debate on the motion on behalf of the Government.

Others included Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss.

Downing Street sources denied Mrs May had lost control of her Cabinet and her party, insisting that the results were a "natural consequence" of the Prime Minister's decision to offer a free vote on an issue where many hold strong views.

At a special political Cabinet meeting shortly before the votes, the Prime Minister is understood to have berated four ministers for defying the whip by abstaining the previous night when MPs voted to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

But Downing Street indicated that the four - Greg Clark, David Gauke, Amber Rudd and David Mundell - would not lose their jobs.

A Number 10 source characterised the exchange as "productive, open and honest", adding that Cabinet "collectively agreed to redouble their resolve in working to deliver on the result of the referendum to leave the EU by securing support for a deal".

Only a refusal by the leaders of the 27 remaining EU states to grant the UK an extension at a Brussels summit next week could now preserve March 29 as Brexit day.

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