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EU tells May she has 24 hours to table plan that averts hard Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Prime Minister Theresa May (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

By Laura Larkin

Prime Minister Theresa May has been given 24 hours to come up with a plan to pull the UK out of the current political crisis or face a no-deal Brexit.

European leaders, including Tanaiste Simon Coveney, last night ramped up pressure on Mrs May to come up with a "detailed plan of action" on how the UK can end the Brexit turmoil that has paralysed Westminster.

While the EU has repeatedly insisted it does not want to see Britain leave without a deal, Mr Coveney warned: "People would be very foolish to assume this is some kind of political game and that an extension will automatically be facilitated."

Another senior Irish Government source said "there is growing frustration in Europe across the EU capitals, nobody wants another year of this".

With the possibility of another meaningful vote on the divorce deal still unclear due to historic parliamentary rules that have been invoked in Westminster, Mrs May is expected to write to EU leaders in Brussels outlining what type of Brexit extension she wants.

The DUP - which is seen as crucial in winning the support of enough Tory MPs to finally pass the withdrawal agreement - has said a deal with the UK Government is still not close to being finalised.

Nigel Dodds told the BBC yesterday that his party had "good discussions" with the Government but "there were still, and are still, big gaps".

"We have always been very clear about the conditions under which we would back any withdrawal agreement," he said.

"And that is about the treatment of Northern Ireland in terms of single market and customs union compared to the rest of the United Kingdom."

The EU has said a request for an extension would need to be made ahead of tomorrow's summit to allow the EU 27 to consider it.

Downing Street was last night considering its options ahead of a key 48 hours for Brexit, but as turmoil persists the Prime Minister had branded the current stalemate a "political crisis", a spokesman said.

A short extension is almost certain to be sought by Mrs May until the end of June, which would give her breathing space to try and revive her divorce deal, which has already been rejected twice by MPs in the Commons.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier set out the test that Europe expects Mrs May to meet if it is to grant an extension, warning: "We cannot prolong uncertainty without having a good reason for it."

He also cautioned that a long extension would need a reset of Britain's Brexit approach.

He said: "A longer extension needs to be linked to something new; there needs to be a new event, a new political process."

Bloomberg reported it was likely an ultimatum would be issued to Mrs May tomorrow telling her that she has only a matter of weeks to decide if she feels she can get the deal through Parliament. If she can't get the deal through she will be told that she must decide between delaying Brexit until next year or leave in three months with a no-deal.

Mr Barnier also moved to increase pressure on the UK over the threat of a no-deal Brexit, telling reporters: "Voting against no-deal does not prevent it from happening.

"Everyone should now finalise all preparations for no-deal scenario. On the EU side, we are prepared."

The readiness of the bloc to cope with a cliff-edge Brexit was also made clear in Dublin following a meeting between EU council president Donald Tusk and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Afterwards an Irish Government spokesman said: "Preparations continue in Ireland and across the European Union for a no-deal scenario, which would have serious consequences for all concerned."

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