Brexit: May’s appeal to nation backfires as MPs accuse her of stoking hate

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Powered by article titled “May urges MPs to back her deal to secure Brexit delay until 22 May – as it happened” was written by Andrew Sparrow and Kevin Rawlinson, for on Friday 22nd March 2019 01.06 UTC

12.57am GMT

Closing summary

We’re going to close down this live blog after a Brexit marathon at the EU summit in Brussels. Here’s a summary of the day’s events:

  • Brexit has been delayed until 12 April at the earliest after the prime minister accepted the EU’s proposals. Theresa May had been forced into asking for the delay after her Brexit deal went down to two heavy defeats in the Commons.
  • The UK will leave the EU on 22 May if Parliament accepts May’s deal and, if it doesn’t, Brexit is scheduled to happen in three weeks. The government will be able to seek a longer extension if it can come up with a plan and agree to participate in the upcoming European Parliament elections. But May said she was not minded to meet the latter condition.
  • The decision came after late-night talks that followed the EU’s rejection of May’s own plans for a delay. The prime minister failed to convince the bloc that she was capable of avoiding a no-deal Brexit.
  • Workers’ and businesses’ representatives joined together to issue a statement saying the country is facing a “national emergency” over Brexit. In a rare move, the heads of the TUC and the CBI united to demand that Theresa May takes steps to protect jobs and adopt a Brexit “plan B”.
  • The Labour leader refused to rule out revoking article 50. Nevertheless, Jeremy Corbyn insisted his party was focused on working out an alternative deal to leave the European Union. He also defended his decision to walk out of a meeting on Brexit because the former Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, had been invited.

That’s all from us this evening but, for those wanting to read more, my colleagues Daniel Boffey, Heather Stewart, and Jennifer Rankin have the full story:

12.06am GMT

Here’s the snap analysis from my colleague, Heather Stewart:

And, in Westminster, the Labour MP Hilary Benn is trying to secure the time for MPs to debate what alternatives there might be to May’s deal:

11.56pm GMT

Theresa May’s speech as a whole has not gone down well with the Labour MP, Chi Onwurah:

But then, that is perhaps to be expected.

Nor has it gone down well with the hard-Brexit supporting former Tory MP, Stewart Jackson:

But then, that too is perhaps to be expected.

Updated at 3.33am GMT

11.54pm GMT

The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, her Labour colleague, Steve McCabe, and the SNP MP, Pete Wishart, are unimpressed by May’s attempt at conciliation tonight:

11.41pm GMT

Here’s what Theresa May said this evening on the comments she made last night, in which she blamed the Brexit delay on Parliament, rather than accepting responsibility for it herself:

I know MPs on all sides of the debate have passionate views and I respect those different positions. Last night, I expressed my frustration and I know that MPs are frustrated too – they have difficult jobs to do.

I hope we can all agree we are now at the moment of decision and I will make every effort to make sure we can leave with a deal and move our country forward.

Later, she was asked if she felt she should apologise to MPs, some of whom have said they have been on the receiving end of death threats and harassment over Brexit.

She declined to do so, saying instead:

There are passionately held views on all sides of this argument. And yes, as I said, last night I expressed frustration but I know MPs are frustrated too.

She added her gratitude to those who have agreed to support her deal, as well as to those she’s met with to discuss their concerns about the deal.

Some MPs had reacted furiously to her comments. One Labour MP even said he was physically attacked:

Updated at 3.59am GMT

11.23pm GMT

Reference is made to the petition to revoke Brexit, which has been signed by more than two million people as things stand. Does May believe opinion in the UK might have shifted?

May says the referendum was held and the government agreed to enact its result. That is what it is doing.

11.17pm GMT

May is asked to rank in order of preference her choices – leaving the EU with or without a deal, delaying Brexit and revoking article 50.

She declines to do so but reiterates that she will not countenance revoking article 50 (as detailed at 9.39pm).

11.15pm GMT

May is asked if she should apologise about her language in discussing MPs’ refusal to vote through her deal. She does not do so, but says she understands people have genuinely held views.

She calls for MPs to vote through her deal so they can secure the delay until 22 May.

11.13pm GMT

May says she believes it would be wrong to ask the UK to take part in European Parliament elections three years after voting to leave – a prerequisite of a longer delay.

She address an audience in Westminster, saying she understands MPs are frustrated. “We are now at the moment of decision,” she says and adds that she wants to leave with a deal.

11.12pm GMT

The prime minister is reiterating her phrase about “legally binding” changes to the backstop made last week. She was also careful to call the delay “short”.

Updated at 11.18pm GMT

11.10pm GMT

Theresa May is about to start her press conference.

10.58pm GMT

Final question: Tusk said there was a special place in hell for those people who promoted Brexit without having “even a sketch of a plan” for how to deliver it. He and Juncker are asked whether, should British MPs refuse to vote through May’s deal, more room be should made?

Tusk responds: “According to our pope*, hell is still empty and it means there are a lot of spaces.”

Juncker adds: “Don’t go to hell.”

And, with that, the press conference is brought to a swift conclusion.

*We originally reported that Tusk had said “according to our poll”. I misheard him and the quote has been updated to reflect that.

Updated at 1.06am GMT

10.55pm GMT

Next question: What was the atmosphere in the room and is there a risk of kicking the can down the road now?

Tusk says the atmosphere was better than in December. He is satisfied they were able to find a way to ease the process. He does not address the risk of any cans being kicked.

10.53pm GMT

After a brief press conference, Tusk and Juncker are now taking questions. They are asked how long a “long extension” is. “Till the very end,” Juncker says, to laughter in the room.

Updated at 10.53pm GMT

10.51pm GMT

Jean-Claude Juncker reiterates that the EU is ready for all outcomes – including a no-deal Brexit and that it cannot change the withdrawal agreement; a point the European Council was at pains to make in its published proposals.

Updated at 3.48am GMT

10.50pm GMT

May agrees to Brexit delay proposal

Donald Tusk confirms that Theresa May has agreed to the plan to delay Brexit until 22 May if she can get her deal through the Commons, or 12 April if she cannot.

Updated at 3.53am GMT

10.48pm GMT

Tusk is outlining the terms of the deal, as detailed at 10.42pm.

He says the UK will still have the choice of a deal, no deal, a long delay or revoking article 50. A key point will be whether or not the UK agrees to hold European Parliament elections.

10.46pm GMT

Tusk and Juncker are beginning their press conference.

Updated at 10.46pm GMT

10.42pm GMT

EU announces Brexit delay terms

The European Council has published the terms of its proposal to Theresa May. She is discussing them with its president, Donald Tusk, now. The most salient parts read as follows:

The European Council agrees to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the withdrawal agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week. If the withdrawal agreement is not approved by the House of Commons next week, the European Council agrees to an extension until 12 April 2019 and expects the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council.

The European Council reiterates that there can be no opening of the withdrawal agreement that was agreed between the [European] Union and the United Kingdom in November 2018. Any unilateral commitment, statement or other act should be compatible with the letter and the spirit of the withdrawal agreement.

The European Council calls for work to be continued on preparedness and contingency at all levels for the consequences of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal, taking into account all possible outcomes.

So, in summary, the prime minister has been offered until 22 May if she gets her deal through the Commons. If she does not, she’d have until 12 April.

Meanwhile, the EU will continue to prepare for all outcomes – including a no-deal Brexit.

As Tusk himself puts it:

Updated at 10.43pm GMT

10.24pm GMT

According to the Press Association, EU leaders are set to offer the UK a plan that would delay Brexit from 29 March to 22 May on condition that MPs approve Theresa May’s withdrawal deal.

If the deal is rejected in its third “meaningful vote” in the Commons, the UK would be given until 12 April to come to the European Council with its proposals for the way forward.

If the UK agreed to take part in European Parliament elections in May, the possibility would be open for a further extension of several months.

Tusk has not officially confirmed what the bloc’s offer will be but is meeting May right now to communicate it to her.

10.22pm GMT

EU agrees response to May’s Brexit delay request

Theresa May and the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, are about to meet, with the bloc having decided upon its response to her request for a delay:

9.58pm GMT

Sources have dismissed Theresa May’s plea for more time to deliver a form of Brexit she and parliament can live with as “90 minutes of nothing”. My colleagues, Daniel Boffey, Heather Stewart and Jennifer Rankin, report that, according to a source, the prime minister “dismally” failed to offer any answers as to what she would do if the deal was blocked by MPs again

One aide is quoted as saying:

She didn’t even give clarity if she is organising a vote. Asked three times what she would do if she lost the vote, she couldn’t say. It was awful. Dreadful. Evasive even by her standards.

When leaders asked May what she was going to do if her deal was voted down, an official added that the prime minister replied that she was following her ‘Plan A’ of getting it through.

It was then the EU decided that “she didn’t have a plan so they needed to come up with one for her”, the source added.

9.39pm GMT

The prime minister has no intention of revoking article 50, despite a public petition calling for the Brexit deadline to be cancelled passing 1.6 million signatures.

When asked for Theresa May’s view on the petition, a Number 10 spokeswoman told the Press Association that May worried failing to deliver Brexit would cause “potentially irreparable damage to public trust”.

The prime minister has long been clear that failing to deliver on the referendum result would be a failure of our democracy and something she couldn’t countenance. The prime minister has said many times she will not countenance revoking article 50.

The number of names being added to the petition was so great on Thursday that the parliamentary petition website crashed several times.

9.32pm GMT

There are reports around of an increasingly strained relationship between the prime minister and her chief whip, Julian Smith. According to ITV News’ Paul Brand, Smith “has been openly admitting today that he found last night’s statement in Downing Street ‘appalling’.”

On Wednesday evening, May delivered a televised address from Downing Street, in which she said the planned delay to Brexit was not her fault but that of MPs, adding that it was time for them to make a decision.

ITV quote Smith as telling a fellow MP the prime minister “just won’t listen” to him.

It’s worth noting that Number 10 has denied the reports of a rift this evening.

Updated at 9.33pm GMT

8.16pm GMT

Here in Brussels, where it’s now past 9pm, we’ve been patiently awaiting a joint press conference from Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, to announce the European council’s decision on Theresa May’s request for a three-month Brexit delay. But a spokesman for Tusk has just announced that the discussions will continue over dinner – without the prime minister.

She addressed her fellow leaders earlier, in a 90-minute question and answer session that by all accounts did not go well, as she flatly refused to say what she plans to do if her deal is rejected for a third time.

There then commenced a prolonged period of horse-trading over what new exit date Britain should be offered, and on what conditions; with some leaders keen to remove the risk of an accidental no-deal Brexit next week – or the need to return to Brussels for an emergency summit – and others, including the French president Emmanuel Macron, taking a harder line.

Who knows where they’ll end up. But the outcome will make an enormous difference to how the next few days and weeks play out back in Westminster.

Updated at 8.54pm GMT

8.13pm GMT

Bulgaria’s ambassador to the EU, Dimiter Tzantchev, has posted this picture of the bloc’s Brexit negotiators, Sabine Weyand and Stephanie Riso, as well as the Dutch and Irish ambassadors to the EU, Declan Kelleher and Robert de Groot, among a team of officials working on the article 50 discussions:

Weyand is standing in the centre wearing a blue lanyard. Kelleher is to her right and in front of him, apparently kneeling on the floor, is Riso. De Groot is to her right, wearing glasses.

7.56pm GMT

It’s looking like we may be in for a bit of a wait – this comes from Donald Tusk’s spokesman:

7.50pm GMT

Talks on article 50 extension ongoing as France and Belgium push 7 May deadline

Discussions between the leaders are ongoing, and don’t appear to be close to being resolved.

France and Belgium are pushing for an extension to the 7 May date, with an option to extend until the end of the year.

The reason for the move by Emmanuel Macron, the French president, is in part that 8 May is a bank holiday in France. That would give him a buffer in case of the financial shock of a no-deal Brexit.

That bank holiday being la Fête de la Victoire’ – Victory Day – to celebrate the end of the second world war.

There is also an EU summit in the Romanian city of Sibiu on 9 May, where the bloc’s 27 heads of state and government are set to start planning the future of Europe without Britain.

The draft conclusions presented to leaders to debate at the head of today’s discussion had stated that the UK could extend until 22 May. The UK holds European elections on 23 May.

But Macron is also keen to avoid a no-deal scenario on 22 May – just ahead of the European elections in France on 26 May.

Under the Macron plan, there would also be an option for the UK to extend to the end of 2019 if the British government notified the EU of its intentions by 11 April.

That is the date by which the Electoral Commission would need to know if European elections are being held in the UK.

Any extension beyond 22 May would require European elections. It is an EU red line. The EU wants to protect its institutions from being improperly constituted through having the UK in as a member state but without MEPs in the parliament.

Updated at 8.17pm GMT

7.34pm GMT

My colleagues Rowena Mason and Dan Sabbagh have also been looking at what Theresa May might do if her deal gets voted down. And, like the Financial Times (see 7.09pm), they have concluded that the evidence is pointing towards no deal.

Here is how their story starts.

Cabinet ministers believe there is now a real risk of a no-deal Brexit, with sources close to them describing the mood in government as depressing and No 10 as “run by lunatics”.

Senior members of the cabinet from both sides of the Brexit argument are understood to think the chances of the UK leaving without a deal have substantially increased after the prime minister set herself against a longer extension to article 50.

One aide to a cabinet minister said No 10 was in “full-on bunker mode” and the prime minister’s speech from Downing Street showed “they have all taken leave of their senses”.

Another soft-Brexit cabinet source described the mood as “depressing” and said of no deal: “The risk is now very real.”

But do read the whole thing. It’s here.

That’s all from me for tonight.

My colleague Kevin Rawlinson is now taking over.

Updated at 7.40pm GMT

7.25pm GMT

Politico Europe has what it says is the latest draft wording from the EU27 conclusions on Brexit. This is from Politico Europe’s Jack Blanchard.

7.18pm GMT

More reports on what seems to be going on in the EU27 discussion.

These are from the Sun’s Nick Gutteridge.

This is from David Henig, a trade policy expert.

And this is from the BBC’s Katya Adler.

7.14pm GMT

And this is from the Irish Times’ Denis Staunton.

7.14pm GMT

This is from the Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn.

7.09pm GMT

As reported earlier, the key question in British politics at the moment is, ‘What will Theresa May do if MPs vote down her Brexit deal?’ (See 1.02pm.) Default to no deal, or abandon her opposition to the UK staying in the EU beyond June and taking part in the European elections? The Financial Times thinks it has the answer; it’s no deal.

This is from the FT’s George Parker.

And here’s an extract from the FT story (paywall).

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Theresa May made a momentous choice. After a day of acrimonious debate in her cabinet and inner circle, the prime minister decided that she was willing to take Britain out of the EU without a deal.

At Thursday’s European council meeting in Brussels, EU diplomats wondered whether Mrs May was bluffing, but those close to the prime minister said if she cannot secure her Brexit deal she is determined the UK should embark on a no-deal exit.

Updated at 7.13pm GMT

6.56pm GMT

And these are from the BBC’s Katya Adler.

6.55pm GMT

Here are some more reports from what is happening in the EU27 discussion.

From the Sunday Times’ Andrew Byrne

From the BBC’s Adam Fleming

6.53pm GMT

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, posted this on Twitter earlier, reinforcing the point he made as he arrived at the summit.

And here is the translation from Twitter.

On Brexit, we need to be clear to ourselves, our British friends and our peoples. The withdrawal agreement cannot be renegotiated. In case of a British negative vote, we would go to a no-deal.

Updated at 7.00pm GMT

6.49pm GMT

EU ‘could insist on nine-month Brexit delay if MPs vote down deal’, Bloomberg reports

This is from Bloomberg’s Jess Shankelman.

Updated at 6.51pm GMT

6.45pm GMT

This is from RTE’s Tony Connelly.

6.44pm GMT

Theresa May at the EU summit earlier, waiting to explain to EU leaders why she needed an article 50 extension.
Theresa May at the EU summit earlier, waiting to explain to EU leaders why she needed an article 50 extension.
Photograph: Mario Salerno/European Union/PA

6.41pm GMT

These are from ITV’s Robert Peston.

6.20pm GMT

These are from Sky’s Deborah Haynes.

6.12pm GMT

This is from BuzzFeed’s Alberto Nardelli.

It prompted this response from ITV’s Robert Peston.

6.07pm GMT

The Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle says a constituent tried to assault him today. He makes a connection between what happened and what Theresa May said in her speech last night about MPs blocking Brexit. (See 9.12am.)

6.03pm GMT

A court has upheld the Electoral Commission’s decision to fine the pro-Brexit group Leave.EU for breaching campaign finance rules in the EU referendum.

Sitting at the Central London county court, Judge Dight ruled today that the commission was entitled to find the group exceeded campaign spending limits, and that it had misreported some details of loans and spending.

However the judge allowed aspects of Leave.EU’s appeal, including that payments to the American political consultancy Goddard Gunster did not need to be reported, because political strategic advice is not a reportable election expense under UK electoral law.

The commission originally fined Leave.EU £70,000 for various offences last May. Because aspects of the group’s appeal succeeded, the overall penalty is likely to be reduced at a further hearing in April.

6.00pm GMT

Pound falls against dollar as fears of no-deal Brexit rise

The pound has plunged against the dollar on the foreign exchange markets, heading for the biggest one-day fall of the year on rising fears over no-deal Brexit.

Sterling dropped by about 2 cents against the dollar to .3011, extending falls over recent days from a nine-month high of .34 last week. The pound also weakened by about 0.6% against the euro to €1.15.

Analysts said the prospect of only a short delay in the article 50 process and the mounting risk that Britain could sleepwalk into a no-deal scenario were dragging the pound lower. Sterling is still about 12% below the level recorded before the EU referendum in 2016, reflecting the UK’s weaker prospects for economic growth.

Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at the financial trading firm Oanda, said: “Sterling volatility has certainly picked up over the last 24 hours, with May’s article 50 extension request appearing to be the trigger.”

Updated at 6.11pm GMT

5.53pm GMT

Ipsos Mori has some new polling out today that makes grim reading for both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. As Joe Murphy reports in the Evening Standard, only 18% of people have confidence in Theresa May to get a good Brexit deal. But only 21% think Corbyn would get a good Brexit deal, the poll suggests.

Ipsos Mori has more polling in its March Political Monitor (pdf).

This chart shows how confidence in May to get a good Brexit deal has been falling.

Confidence in May to get good Brexit deal
Confidence in May to get good Brexit deal
Photograph: Ipsos MORI

This chart is interesting too, because it shows that most Conservative supporters did have confidence in May to get a good Brexit deal until July last year, when the Chequers plan was agreed. At that point May lost the confidence of most Tories on Brexit, and she has not regained it.

Ipsos MORI
Ipsos MORI
Photograph: Polling on confidence in May to get good Brexit deal amongst Tory supporters/Ipsos MORI

And this chart could be useful to any Labour MPs wondering whether they will get the blame if they fail to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal next week, leading to the UK leaving the EU without a deal. If these figures are correct (and they should be treated with some caution, because people were being asked about something that has not happened yet), the answer is – not much.

Polling on who would get blame for no-deal Brexit
Polling on who would get blame for no-deal Brexit
Photograph: Ipsos MORI

Updated at 6.12pm GMT

5.33pm GMT

These are from Katya Adler, the BBC’s Europe editor, on the draft summit conclusions on Brexit. (See 4.59pm.)

5.29pm GMT

Teachers in primary schools in Kent have been told they may have to suspend classes and “adopt a carer role” in the event of disruption caused by a no-deal Brexit, my colleagues Lisa O’Carroll and Richard Adams report. They have also been advised by local authorities to check on food supplies and warned that public transport and school coaches could be affected if there is “panic buying” of fuel, according to a document seen by the Guardian. The schools have been warned they may have to consider looking after “stranded” children in the event parents are caught up in gridlock.

Here is their full story.

5.23pm GMT

Here is my colleague Daniel Boffey on the draft summit conclusions on Brexit. (See 4.59pm.)

5.21pm GMT

This is from Stefan Rousseau, the Press Association’s chief political photographer.

5.11pm GMT

The catastrophic impact of no-deal on Ireland’s farming and food sector has been laid out in detail county by county by one of the country’s leading economists.

Edgar Morgenroth, professor of economics at Dublin City University, has concluded the border counties Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal will bear the brunt because of their reliance on agri-food for employment. Between them they are among some of the biggest suppliers of mushrooms, chicken, dairy and ready meals to the UK.

Updated at 6.26pm GMT

5.04pm GMT

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, and Michael Heseltine, the former Conservative cabinet minister, are among the keynote speakers due to address the end of the People’s Vote march on Saturday, which hundreds of thousands are expected to attend.

Other political figures include Labour MPs Jess Phillips and David Lammy; Conservative MPs such as former cabinet minister Justine Greening; the former attorney general Dominic Grieve; the Independent Group MP Anna Soubry; the Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable; and Green MP Caroline Lucas. Speeches are due to begin about 2.45pm in Parliament Square with a feed relayed to large screens in Trafalgar Square.

Updated at 6.29pm GMT

4.59pm GMT

This is from Politico Europe’s Charlie Cooper.

4.57pm GMT

The Financial Times’ Robert Shrimsley has a good Twitter thread exploring what might happen if Theresa May has decided that a no-deal Brexit would be preferable to a long article 50 extension, if her deal gets voted down next week. It starts here.

Updated at 6.41pm GMT

4.52pm GMT

This is from the Irish Times’ Pat Leahy.

4.45pm GMT

EU ‘to agree to extend article 50 to 22 May, if MPs back deal’, according to leak of draft conclusions

This is from BuzzFeed’s Alberto Nardelli.

The 22 May date has been chosen because it is the day before the European elections start.

4.41pm GMT

What might happen next? – A Q&A

Here are some more questions from readers that I will answer here because they might be of general interest.

What legislation needs to be passed in the UK to extend article 50?

Andrew, are you able to run us through the mechanism of suspending or repealing the EU Withdrawal Act next week? i.e. obviously Article 50 revocation can be sent at 11.59pm and EU would have to accept it. But what action would Parliament actually need to take to stop the legally-binding repeal of the EU Communities Act (1973) from kicking in at 11pm on Mar 29? What would happen if the UK was actually still accepted by EU as a member at that time (because of revocation of Article 50) but the law had not been repealed?

The EU Withdrawal Act, as it currently stands, says EU law will cease to apply when the UK leaves the EU at 11pm on 29 March 2019.

If there is an extension, the government will have to change the exit date in the act. But that is a relatively straightforward process; it would have to pass a statutory instrument in the Commons and the Lords. These would be simple yes/no votes (ie, on unamendable motions), probably after a 90-minute debate.

If the UK were to revoke article 50, but leave the EU Withdrawal Act as it stands, the UK would be in breach of EU law. The EU would take us to the ECJ. And, in the meantime, lawyers would have a field day.

Would the EU offer a long extension if parliament were to take control and back Norway plus?


If May’s deal fails early next week, but then Parliament manages to seize control of the Brexit process and hold indicative votes, would a majority in support of – say – Norway Plus be enough to convince the EU to offer a long extension?

It is hard to say. But the EU can only negotiate with a prime minister, and a government. It can’t decide the UK’s future on the basis of talks with Yvette Cooper, or Hilary Benn, or John Bercow, or Oliver Letwin. EU leaders have repeatedly said they want to know there is a stable majority in the Commons for a Brexit proposition. They would want, not just a Commons vote for Norway plus (or whatever), but a government committed to implementing it.

Can parliament force May to revoke article 50?

Andrew, is there a method for parliament to impose revocation of article 50 against the wishes of Theresa May?

Not very easily. There have been amendments tabled during Brexit debates calling for article 50 to be revoked (at least one was from SNP’s Angus Brendan MacNeil), but they have not been called.

MPs would have to vote for article 50 to be revoked, but a straightforward vote on a motion or an amendment would not be binding. MPs could then argue that the PM were in contempt of parliament if she ignored it, but there are limits to how far that process would take you. (Ultimately the Commons can suspend a member, but I’m not sure even that would stop May being PM.)

The only surefire mechanism would be for parliament to pass a bill requiring the PM to revoke article 50. Some lawyers argue, without primary legislation, the PM would not have the power to revoke article 50 anyway. But passing primary legislation without government support is extraordinarily hard, because the government normally controls the Commons timetable.

Yvette Cooper came up with a plan for how this might happen, involving suspending standing order 14, but there is no guarantee that her plan would work, partly because a bill could be filibustered by government loyalists in the Lords.

Can May revoke article 50 on her own?

Andrew –
if Robert Peston’s ‘miniscoop’ is correct and Kwasi Kwarteng’s briefing indicates that May is secretly against No Deal.
What are the parliamentary mechanics of Revoking article 50? Can she do this herself or does a majority of parliament need to vote for it?

In theory, yes, she can do it on her own. She would be using a prerogative power.

But government lawyers argue that in practice she would need a vote in parliament, or even legislation.

By the way, I don’t think the Peston scoop (see 1.47pm) necessarily means May has secretly decided never to agree to no deal. I think it’s more a case of Number 10 not wanting a junior minister to be specific, so that as many options as possible remain open.

Updated at 7.08pm GMT

4.18pm GMT

A response, of a sort, from Downing Street to the joint CBI/TUC letter expressing alarm at the possible drift to a no-deal Brexit (see 2.29pm). At the lobby briefing, when asked about it, Theresa May’s spokeswoman said:

The PM has said that she’s absolutely determined to do everything she can to leave with a deal that protects businesses and jobs, and provides them with the certainty that they want.

It was “not clear” whether the letter had yet been officially sent to No 10, she said, meaning there was no news yet about the groups’ request for an urgent meeting with May. The spokeswoman added: “She has engaged widely with business, including with those two groups.”

Updated at 4.35pm GMT

4.09pm GMT

The Telegraph’s James Rothwell has another line from what Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said earlier that is worth recording.

3.41pm GMT

The e-petition calling for article 50 to be revoked has now got more than 1m signatures.

During the business statement in the Commons earlier, Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, was asked about the petition (which at that point had been signed by around 800,000 people). Leadsom implied she was not particularly impressed. She told MPs:

Should the petition reach more than 17.4m signatures [ie, the number of people who voted leave], there would be a very clear case for taking action.

Updated at 3.53pm GMT

3.23pm GMT

EU summit – what we’ve learnt from the arrivals

The EU summit is now under way. By early this evening we should know what the EU27 have decided to offer the UK in terms of an article 50 extension.

It would be a mistake to read too much into the comments given by the leaders to the media as they arrived, which are mostly just there to fill space in a three-hour news cycle. But politicians do plan in advance what they are going to say at moments like this, and there are some points that stand out.

  • Some EU leaders were keen to talk up the prospect of the UK heading for no deal. In his statement yesterday, Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, implied that MPs would next face a choice between voting for Theresa May’s deal or a no-deal Brexit. But he was not explicit about that. Today leaders such as Emmanuel Macron (see 2.11pm), Krisjanis Karins (see 1.59pm) and Xavier Bettel (see 2.19pm) have been talking up the risk of no deal.
  • The same leaders have been playing down the prospect of the UK getting a new offer on an article 50 extension at the end of next week, if MPs vote down the deal. Yesterday Tusk said a short extension would be conditional on MPs voting for the deal. He would not say what would happen if MPs rejected the deal, beyond implying there would be a further EU summit. There has been speculation that at that point the EU could offer a long extension, conditional on the UK taking part in EU elections, and perhaps conditional on something else too. Today no one said that would not happen. But no one was talking up the idea either. Leo Varadkar said the EU wanted this crisis resolved soon (see 1.15pm) and Macron implied the EU would instead tilt towards no deal (see 2.11pm).
  • May has continued to refuse to say what she would request if her deal gets rejected again next week, and she is also refusing to say explicitly that a no-deal Brexit is the only alternative. But she is also saying Brexit must be delivered, implying perhaps she is becoming reconciled to the prospect of the UK having to leave without a deal (see 1.02pm).
EU leaders at the EU summit.
EU leaders at the EU summit.
Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Updated at 7.23am GMT

2.47pm GMT

Theresa May had a meeting with Donald Tusk, the European council president, earlier.

2.44pm GMT

The EU has an unusual practice of broadcasting footage of the leaders milling around at the start of their meeting, before they get down to business. There is no audio feed, so you cannot hear what they are saying, but it’s a boon for anyone who believes in the “body language” theory of reporting (that you can gauge what is going up just by watching the body language).

The live feed has just gone down, but there was some footage of May. I don’t think you could really read much into it, but May did not exactly look like a ray of sunshine.

Theresa May
Theresa May
Photograph: EU
Theresa May
Theresa May
Photograph: EU

Updated at 3.00pm GMT

2.29pm GMT

TUC and CBI issue joint statement saying UK faces ‘national emergency’ and May must embrace plan B

Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, and Carolyn Fairbairn, the director general of the CBI, have jointly written an open letter to Theresa May saying that the country is facing a “national emergency” over Brexit and that she should adopt a “plan B”.

It is very unusual for the country’s main employers organisation and the body representing trade unions to unite in this way and with such a strongly worded message to government.

Here it is in full.

Together we represent millions of workers and tens of thousands of businesses. It is on their behalf that we are writing to you to ask you to change your Brexit approach.

Our country is facing a national emergency. Decisions of recent days have caused the risk of no deal to soar. Firms and communities across the UK are not ready for this outcome. The shock to our economy would be felt by generations to come.

We ask you to take three steps to protect the jobs, rights and livelihoods of ordinary working people.

First, avoiding no deal is paramount. Businesses and employees alike need to see their government clearly acknowledge the reckless damage no deal would cause and recommit itself to avoiding this outcome.

Second, securing an extension has become essential. 88% of CBI members and a majority in parliament agree this is better than no deal. But at the same time an extension must genuinely allow a way forwards, and be long enough for a deal to be agreed.

Third, ‘the current deal or no deal’ must not be the only choice. A Plan B must be found – one that protects workers, the economy and an open Irish border, commands a parliamentary majority, and is negotiable with the EU. A new approach is needed to secure this – whether through indicative votes or another mechanism for compromise.

We cannot overstate the gravity of this crisis for firms and working people. We request an urgent meeting with you to discuss our concerns and hear your response.

Frances O’Grady (left) and Carolyn Fairbairn
Frances O’Grady (left) and Carolyn Fairbairn
Photograph: Sky News

Updated at 3.44pm GMT

2.19pm GMT

Waiting for Brexit like waiting for Godot, says Luxembourg PM

Echoing Emmanuel Macron (see 2.11pm), Xavier Bettel, the prime minister of Luxembourg, said:

If next week we are not able to find agreement in the House of Commons we are going in the direction of no deal.

Asked about previous assurances given by Theresa May, he also turned literary.

I have to feel sometimes that I’m in the waiting room waiting for Godot, and Godot is never coming … it’s just a fact that we are waiting for something which is never coming.

(Perhaps that’s good news for remainers: Godot never turns up.)

UPDATE: A reader thinks this is particularly appropriate.

Xavier Bettel
Xavier Bettel

Photograph: Francisco Seco/AP

Updated at 2.32pm GMT

2.13pm GMT

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission, president, said there would have to be another summit if there was a vote against the Brexit deal in the Commons next week. He said:

In the event the withdrawal agreement will not be approved by the House [of Commons], we have to come back.

Updated at 3.34pm GMT

2.11pm GMT

If MPs reject agreement, ‘we will be going to no deal’, says Macron

Here are some more quotes from what Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said to reporters as he arrived.

Prime Minister Theresa May has asked, in the case of a positive vote in the British parliament, for a purely technical extension.

I am quite open to a technical extension – it should be as short as possible – in the case of a positive vote.

The exit process has taken two years of negotiation. It cannot be renegotiated.

Macron also said it was necessary to be “clear” about the consequences of Theresa May losing a third Commons vote on her deal.

In the case of a negative vote in the British parliament, we will be going to a no deal. We all know that.

It is absolutely essential to be clear in these days and these moments, because it is a matter of the good functioning of the EU. We cannot have what I would call an excessive extension which would harm our capacity to decision and to act.

Emmanuel Macron arriving at the summit
Emmanuel Macron arriving at the summit
Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 3.28pm GMT

2.05pm GMT

Sky’s Mark Stone has a longer version of the Emmanuel Macron quote.

1.59pm GMT

UK will have to revoke article 50 or face no-deal Brexit if MPs vote down deal next week, Latvian PM says

The Latvian prime minister, Krisjanis Karins, said Britain would have to leave without a deal or revoke article 50 if May’s deal is rejected again next week. Speaking as he arrived at the summit, he said:

If the UK is leaving we would want that to be an orderly process so there has been a withdrawal agreement agreed over a two-year period – I don’t see any chance of changing that.

So the question is will the UK accept this agreement and then it will be an orderly withdrawal? No one wants a chaotic withdrawal.

Asked what would happen if the deal were rejected, Karins replied:

There are then two alternatives: either Great Britain withdraws article 50 and stays in the European Union or there is a disorderly withdrawal.

Krisjanis Karins
Krisjanis Karins
Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 3.48pm GMT

1.57pm GMT

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said MPs would have to back the Brexit deal for the EU to agree an extension. Speaking to reporters as he arrived at the summit, he said:

The ball has to be in the court of the British parliament. They first have to say ‘yes’.

I think the signal today might be that if the British parliament would say a ‘yes’ lock, stock and barrel to everything on the table, then Europe understands that technically that you need time to implement everything in law.

Mark Rutte (left)
Mark Rutte (left)
Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 2.01pm GMT

1.54pm GMT

The Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaite, said EU leaders would be “supportive” to Theresa May but warned there would be conditions to any extension of article 50. As she arrived at the summit, she said:

We have European elections and that means probably conditionality will be an extension only [to] May or a longer extension. In that case the UK will need to organise an election …

We are still optimistic. We need to support the UK. The UK for us is important and we are hoping for a solution, but the timing is still in the hands of the UK parliament.

Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite
Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite
Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

1.51pm GMT

Macron says UK will be heading towards no-deal Brexit if MPs vote down the deal next week

Macron is now taking questions in English. (His earlier responses were in French.)

He says if there is going to be a yes vote in parliament, the EU can agree an extension.

But a no vote “will guide everybody to a no deal”, he says.

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron
Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Updated at 3.48pm GMT

1.49pm GMT

From the Telegraph’s Gordon Rayner

1.48pm GMT

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has arrived at the summit.

1.47pm GMT

ITV’s Robert Peston has a mini-scoop that sheds some light on the “what will happen if May loses the vote next week?” mystery. (See 1.02pm and 1.19pm.) He has seen a briefing note prepared for Kwasi Kwarteng, a junior Brexit minister who did a round of interviews this morning, and, as Peston says in a blog, it says Kwarteng was told “to avoid saying that MPs face a choice between backing the PM’s deal and a no-deal Brexit”. Peston goes on:

Expecting to be asked in interviews that it’s “no-deal if you lose MV3 [a third meaningful vote on the PM’s deal]”, Kwarteng is told to reply “you’re getting ahead of yourselves”.

Elsewhere in the note, headed “top lines and Q&A” it says that if MPs reject the PM’s deal again, “MPs will have to decide how to proceed”. There is no suggestion that a no-deal Brexit is the automatic consequence.

Updated at 3.49pm GMT

1.38pm GMT

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said the EU would do all it could to ensure an orderly Brexit as she arrived at the summit.

UPDATE: Here is a fuller version of the quote.

To the last hour, we must do everything to ensure that there can be an orderly British exit from the EU.

Updated at 2.37pm GMT

1.36pm GMT

The People’s Vote campaign has released quotes from two more MPs criticising Theresa May for what she said about MPs in her speech last night. (See 9.12am.)

This is from Dominic Grieve, the Conservative former attorney general.

I do not believe that the prime minister’s statement last night will have persuaded a single MP to support a reckless strategy that contrary to our national interest and our democratic tradition.

Simply browbeating MPs into submission serves no purpose at all. It brings us the government, parliament and democracy itself into contempt.

And this is from the Labour former business minister Pat McFadden.

Last night’s statement from the prime minister was not only badly misjudged but also reckless. It is deeply irresponsible to play the people versus parliament as she has done repeatedly over the past week. It has gone down like a lead balloon among MPs that Downing Street thinks it can browbeat into supporting her Brexit deal. And it undermines the nature of our parliamentary democracy where it is the essential job of elected representatives to exercise their judgements and cast their votes and then be answerable to the voters for how they have done so.

1.29pm GMT

During the business statement in the Commons, several MPs complained about Theresa May’s speech last night. (See 9.12am.) They included the Labour MP Paula Sheriff, who said:

Last week I received a message saying my head should be chopped off among lots and lots of others. I apprehended the prime minister last week and I begged her, ‘dial down the hate prime minister, it’s in your power to dial down the hate’.

People are in fear, not just here but across the country, and the prime minister must show some leadership, it is within her grasp.

John Bercow, the Speaker, insisted no MP should be seen as a traitor. He said:

None of you is a traitor. All of you are doing your best. This should not be, and I’m sure will not prove to be, a matter of any controversy whatsoever.

Updated at 3.49pm GMT

1.24pm GMT

Ireland’s Twitterverse is roasting the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan for bungling Irish history in a Telegraph article and then refusing to admit his mistake.

In citing Ireland as an example of baleful EU influence, the Brexiteer wrote that Fianna Fáil won every Irish election between 1932 and 2008.

The party in fact lost six times. When challenged about this and other points this week, Hannan doubled down in a tweet. “I managed a double first in modern history from Oxford. One of the things I was taught is that historians necessarily have different takes on the same events. Please try to accept that yours is not the only interpretation,” he wrote.

Mockery has ensued via the hashtag #HannanIrishHistory positing revisionist interpretations of Irish history, such as the ambulance siren being invented in Nenagh, County Tipperary, and Michael Collins faking his own death in 1922 in an insurance scam before fleeing to America, piloting the Apollo 11 mission and being immortalised in the song In The Air Tonight written by his brother Phil.

Updated at 3.50pm GMT

1.21pm GMT

The PM’s deputy official spokeswoman denied that Theresa May had been insulting to MPs in her speech last night. At the lobby briefing earlier, the spokeswoman said:

It was about setting up to the public details on the extension and her own personal feelings about that. I can’t speak for MPs but the PM is working very hard to get the deal over the line.

There is more work to do and the PM fully understands that.

The spokeswoman said she would “flatly reject” the idea that the speech put MPs at risk from an angry public.

Asked about the foreign secretary’s claim that May was feeling under “extraordinary pressure” (see 9.55am), the spokeswoman said:

This is an incredibly challenging process. The PM has been working tirelessly to deliver on what people voted for in able for us to be able to leave the European Union. Yes, it is not without its extraordinarily difficult challenges.

Updated at 3.51pm GMT

1.19pm GMT

Earlier I said the big question in British politics at the moment was: what will Theresa May do if she loses the vote next week? (See 1.02pm.) Here is Sky’s Beth Rigby on the subject.

Updated at 3.51pm GMT

1.15pm GMT

No-deal Brexit would be ‘a British choice’, says Varadkar

Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, has been speaking at a meeting of the European People’s party ahead of today’s summit. Here are the key quotes.

  • Varadkar said the EU wanted to avoid a “rolling cliff-edge”. He said:

Everyone wants to avoid a no-deal but we can’t have a situation whereby we have a rolling cliff-edge, where we just put off decisions and deadlines every couple of months.

Brexit was never going to be clean. Brexit would always require some very hard choices for the United Kingdom to make. It was never going to be all good and no bad. And those decisions now need to be made.

(Presumably a rolling cliff-edge is an avalanche.)

  • He said the EU wanted this crisis resolved relatively soon.

Brexit is not a problem of our creation. We do need to see resolution, I think, sooner rather than later. I don’t think this can drag on for months and years.

  • He said now was not the time to consider a long article 50 extension.

There hasn’t been a request for a long extension so I don’t think we can consider that at this stage.

  • He said a no-deal Brexit would be a British choice.

No-deal can only ever be a British choice.

Let’s not forget the March 29th deadline was set by the UK in the first place. It’s always up to them, even at the last moment, to revoke article 50 unilaterally.

They do not need permission to do that so no-deal, if it happens, will be a British choice and a British decision.

Leo Varadkar arrives for the European People’s party (EPP) leaders’ meeting ahead of the EU summit.
Leo Varadkar arrives for the European People’s party (EPP) leaders’ meeting ahead of the EU summit.
Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

Updated at 3.45pm GMT

1.06pm GMT

Stefan Lofven, the Swedish prime minister, said a short article 50 extension would depend on MPs backing the Brexit deal as he arrived at the EU summit. He said:

An extension would also depend upon the voting in the House of Commons because we believe it is very important that the House of Commons actually agrees upon the agreement that we have and then we can talk extension.

1.02pm GMT

May arrives at EU summit saying UK must ‘deliver Brexit’ for the people

Theresa May has arrived at the EU summit. On her way in she told reporters she would be requesting a short article 50 extension until the end of June.

As I said yesterday, this delay is a matter of personal regret to me. But a short extension would give parliament the time to make a final choice that delivers on the result of the referendum.

Asked if another vote against her deal next week would led to the UK leaving the EU without a deal at the end of next week, she replied:

What is important is that parliament delivers on the result of the referendum and that we deliver Brexit for the British people. I sincerely hope that we can do that with a deal. I’m still working on ensuring that parliament can agree a deal so that we can leave in an orderly way. What matters is that we deliver on the vote of the British people.

When asked again what would happen if she lost the vote next week, she said:

What matters is that we recognise that Brexit is the decision of the British people. We need to deliver on that. We are nearly three years on from the original vote. It is now the time for parliament to decide.

One of the great mysteries of British politics at the moment is what May will do if she loses the vote again next week. Default to no deal, or abandon her opposition to the UK staying in the EU beyond June and taking part in the European elections?

May did not give much of a clue either way. She did not explicitly say a vote against her deal would led to a no-deal Brexit, but she did repeatedly stress the need to “deliver Brexit”.

Updated at 7.10pm GMT

12.33pm GMT

Corbyn refuses to rule out revoking article 50

Jeremy Corbyn has been speaking to reporters after his meetings at the European commission in Brussels. Here are the main points he has been making.

  • Corbyn refused to rule out Labour backing revoking article 50 – although he strongly played down the prospect. Asked if he would consider the idea, Corbyn said that was a hypothetical question. Pressed again on whether he was ruling this out, he said:

We think that what we are proposing can be achieved in the British parliament. We do believe we can construct a majority which will prevent the crashing out and all the chaos that will come from crashing out, and that is what we are absolutely focused on.

The question arises because any request to extend article 50 has to be agreed with all EU member states. But the UK can revoke article 50 unilaterally at any point before Brexit. This would cancel Brexit altogether, although there is an argument that if revocation were used solely as a negotiating tactic to buy more time, it would not be allowed under EU law.

  • Corbyn defended his decision to boycott a cross-party meeting convened by the prime minister because Chuka Umunna, the former Labour MP who now sits with the Independent Group, was there. Asked why people should believe he was committed to cross-party cooperation in the light of what happened, he replied:

There was a confusion over that meeting. I had a separate and very extensive discussion with the prime minister later on. I’m also arranging to meet the prime minister next week, on a one-to-one basis as leader of the opposition. I have met with the leaders of all the other parties in parliament in my office this week, and Keir [Starmer] has also met with delegations from all across the House of Commons. We have done a great deal.

  • Corbyn said his meetings this morning had been “positive”.
  • He said that instead of bringing her deal back to parliament, Theresa May should be looking for a “constructive alternative”.
Jeremy Corbyn (right) and Sir Keir Starmer arriving at the European commission HQ in Brussels.
Jeremy Corbyn (right) and Sir Keir Starmer arriving at the European commission HQ in Brussels.
Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 3.49pm GMT

12.26pm GMT

Theresa May’s Downing Street speech last night may have seemed baffling to those watching at home but there may be a clue to its purpose in how the government social media machine has used the footage.

Soon after she finished talking in Downing Street, the official UK government Facebook page began paying to promote a clip of her speaking under the banner “Brexit: Let’s Get On With It”.

The adverts, funded using public money, began running on Facebook last night and have already been seen at least 2 million times, according to the social network’s new advertising disclosure rules.

These views do not necessarily mean than a Facebook user bothered to watch any of the video, but they do mean that they saw a video in their newsfeed of Theresa May talking alongside the quote: “You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side.”

Although the sums involved are not enormous – up to £10,000 has been spent promoting the video since last night – it is another example of how Facebook ads are being used to put pressure on MPs to back Brexit by directly targeting voters. One mysterious group campaigning for a hard Brexit, which has never revealed its financial backers, has spent almost £500,000 on targeted Facebook ads since last October.

Updated at 1.46pm GMT

12.01pm GMT

What can parliament do next? A Q&A

“You’re tired of … the arcane procedural rows,” Theresa May told the nation in her Downing Street speech last night.

But Guardian readers clearly aren’t. In the comments BTL we have been getting lots of questions about procedures. Here are three I think I can helpfully answer.

Can parliament force the government what to do?

@andrew – or anyone else for that matter…

How does Parliament get to own the solution. Currently, she’s effectively running down the clock such that it really is her deal or no deal brinksmanship. Given her trak record so far and comments last night, I cannot see her aiming for anything but that.

That ignores three votes in the Commons – 2 against the WA and one against No Deal.

So how does parliament get her out of the way – right now it seems as if they could vote overwhelmingly in favour of (say) “revoke” and she could suddenly lose her passport and miss the last post so we end up with “no deal”.

Has parliament the ability to instruct her?

Not easily. The Commons can vote for motions but a) the government has a large degree of control over what is debated (but not total control) and b) general motions passed by MPs are not binding.

Votes on legislation are, of course, binding, because they decide what’s law, and at some point the government will have to pass an EU withdrawal agreement bill (assuming the deal is passed). But most of the recent high-profile votes in the Commons have not been on statute.

The only failsafe mechanism available to parliament, if it wants to stop the PM doing something, is to remove her with a vote a confidence. But even then she would remain PM until either someone else came forward able to command a majority in the Commons (and it is not easy to see who that might be), or until after a general election, which would take several weeks.

Is the leader of the opposition the only person able to table a motion of no confidence?

I have what is probably a really silky question to Andrew (or anyone really). Does it HAVE to be the leader of the main opposition who triggers a vote of no confidence? Or can a tory backbencher invoke such a thing? Because……it seems to me, since Mrs May’s political version of ‘jumping the shark’, that she has very little support in Parliament…..


Any MP can table a motion of no confidence in the government. But they won’t get selected for debate, and so they just get published as an early day motion. This is what happened when the smaller opposition parties tabled a no confidence motion at the end of last year. The leader of the opposition is in a different position because if he or she tables one, then by convention the government is obliged to set aside time for it to be debated (provided the request is reasonable – ie, not a repeat of a vote already held, with no change in circumstances that might make a different result possible).

How would an ‘indicative votes’ process work?

Andrew – How will indicative voting work (as per the Letwin, Cooper, Benn). Will it be something like “alternative voting” as per this video- I hope so- Brexit could be sorted in a few hours!

We don’t know yet, and the various MPs who are proposing “indicative votes” have not said much on this topic. The problem is that the obvious system used to choose between multiple options, an alternative vote, does not fit with the way the Commons works. MPs vote either for or against a single proposition; this is even formalised in the architecture, where the chamber is flanked by an aye lobby and a no lobby. One option might be for MPs to have straight yes/no votes on a range of options, which is what happened when MPs voted on seven House of Lords reform options in 2003. (It wasn’t a success; all seven were rejected.) Ken Clarke, the Tory pro-European, tabled an amendment recently suggesting that MPs vote on various options using the alternative vote system used to elect select committee chairs. But this would have to be done on paper, outside the Commons chamber.

Updated at 7.23am GMT

11.29am GMT

Kent police are to get another £3.5m in funding to handle Brexit, the Home Office has announced, as no-deal Operation Yellowhammer continues.

The policing minister, Nick Hurd, announced today that the department would reimburse the force in full after Kent’s police and crime commissioner applied for additional funding earlier this month.

Kent county council is having a full hearing today ahead of activating no-deal contingency plans from Monday.

It will bear the brunt of no-deal chaos if the UK crashes out of the EU next Friday and although chances of that are less likely it has already put no-deal plans into action on motorways in the county.

Updated at 12.09pm GMT

11.25am GMT

MPs have been advised to travel home by taxi when they leave parliament over fears they could be attacked by angry voters over their handling of Brexit, Kevin Schofield reports at PoliticsHome.

Updated at 1.43pm GMT

10.58am GMT

And here is my colleague Alex Hern’s story on the e-petition website crashing after a petitioner’s call to revoke article 50.

Updated at 11.18am GMT

10.56am GMT

Here are some of the celebrities who have been encouraging people on Twitter to sign the e-petition calling for article 50 to be revoked. (See 10.22am.)

10.48am GMT

Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s former envoy to the EU, thinks Donald Tusk’s offer of an extension on condition that MPs approve the Brexit deal next week should help Theresa May. Speaking in Dublin last night, Rogers said:

That’s not unhelpful to her because in a sense it amplifies the message she’s been trying to give to people, which is: it really is my way or the abyss.

However, May’s requested extension raised the risk of no deal, he warned.

I’ve always thought the markets and the UK commentariat have underestimated the risks of no deal. Let’s not kid ourselves, there is a very serious chance that we end up with no deal in the summer because … we’ve run out of road, both sides have to a degree miscalculated the reaction from the other side, and we end up there because there’s nowhere else to go.

Rogers was talking to reporters after addressing the Institute of International and European Affairs.

Updated at 11.57am GMT

10.45am GMT

Kent county council has activated no-deal plans to keep its roads, hospitals and schools open, as the government considers pulling the trigger on national contingency measures involving 30 central departments and 5,000 staff, my colleagues Lisa O’Carroll and Denis Campbell report.

10.41am GMT

Merkel says UK will get short article 50 extension if MPs back Brexit deal

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has backed what Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, said yesterday about the EU being willing to give the UK a short article 50 extension conditional on MPs voting for the withdrawal agreement next week. Addressing the German parliament before today’s summit, she said:

[There was a request from Theresa May] to delay the exit date to June 30. The leaders of the EU27 will intensively discuss this request. In principle, we can meet this request if we have a positive vote in the British parliament next week about the exit document.

But Merkel also said there would be a debate about whether a short extension would last until the end of June (just before the new European parliament meets), as May has proposed, or until 23 May (when the European elections start), as the European commission prefers. Merkel said:

With regard to the date of June 30, we have to take into consideration that we have European elections in May. This means the future and legality of the European election must be respected. But we can surely talk positively about a short extension.

Angela Merkel addressing the German parliament this morning.
Angela Merkel addressing the German parliament this morning.
Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 11.58am GMT

10.22am GMT

A petition on the government’s e-petition website calling for article 50 to be revoked has attracted more than 675,000 signatures and it is getting hundreds more by the minute. At one point earlier today the site crashed, which may or may not have been related to the volume of traffic it was attracting.

E-petitions that get more than 100,000 signatures get debated in parliament. But the debates take place in Westminster Hall, the annex debating chamber, and MPs do not vote on the proposal, so it would be a mistake to think that an e-petition like this will have much influence on MPs.

Also, e-petitions are a poor guide to public opinion. The What UK Thinks website tracks Brexit opinion in great detail and, as this chart shows, although remain has been opening up a bigger lead over leave recently, the shift in opinion has not been dramatic.

Public opinion on remain v leave
Public opinion on remain v leave
Photograph: What UK Thinks

Updated at 11.59am GMT

10.06am GMT

Here is Robert Harris, the novelist, veteran political commentator and Neville Chamberlain expert, on Theresa May’s address to the nation last night.

10.02am GMT

Sir Oliver Letwin, the Conservative former cabinet minister who is involved in efforts to find a cross-party alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit deal, told the Today programme this morning that there was probably a majority for a Norway-plus approach.

Stressing the need for parliament to find a consensus, he said:

I believe, for example, that we will probably on that day be able to get a cross-party majority in favour of what is sometimes called Norway-plus and sometimes called Common Market 2.0, which is an arrangement where we remain in the single market and we have a customs arrangement with the EU, and that has not yet been tested.

Updated at 12.00pm GMT

9.55am GMT

Hunt criticised after claiming MPs in hung parliaments have different responsibilities

Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, was given the main 8.10 slot on the Today programme this morning. Here are the main points from his interview.

  • Hunt defended what Theresa May said in her No 10 statement last night (see 9.12am), saying she was “reflecting the fact that people at home are getting very frustrated that the process is going on and on and on.”
  • He claimed that MPs’ responsibilities in a hung parliament were not the same as in a parliament where the government has a majority. This was the point May was making in her speech last night, he argued. He explained:

But, underneath, what she was really saying is that in a hung parliament MPs have a different responsibility. In a normal parliament, where a government has a majority, where it can gets its business done with the majority it has, then MPs debate, criticise, do their normal things, come on the Today programme and so on.

In a hung parliament MPs actually have to make decisions because governments cannot decide things on their own. And we don’t have those very often in our history. But she was really making the point that all of us as MPs, whether backbenchers or opposition MPs, have a special responsibility, because a decision cannot happen without parliament giving it approval.

This is a novel constitutional argument, and not one that we’ve heard from any minister since the general election in 2017. It is also hypocritical, because the government has repeatedly whipped its MPs to vote down attempts by MPs such as Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn to create a process that would allow MPs to take the initiative in selecting a Brexit alternative. Labour’s Chris Bryant makes roughly the same point here.

  • Hunt claimed that if MPs did not vote for May’s deal next week, the alternatives could be revoking article 50, or a second referendum. He said:

If we are in the same situation this time next week then only a very limited list of things could happen: parliament could vote to revoke article 50, which is cancelling the Brexit process – I think that’s highly unlikely …

There could be an EU emergency summit to offer us an extension, and we don’t know what the length will be and it could have some very onerous conditions – they could say, for example: ‘We’ll give you an extension if you have a second referendum.’

Again, I think it’s very unlikely parliament would vote for that. And then we have no-deal as the legal default on Friday.

So the choice that we have now is one of resolving this issue or extreme unpredictability.

  • He claimed that May had been tested more than any PM in living memory. He said:

Let’s not forget the extraordinary pressure that she is personally under, and I think she does feel a sense of frustration.

Jeremy Hunt on the Today programme
Jeremy Hunt on the Today programme
Photograph: BBC

Updated at 7.22am GMT

9.34am GMT

Labour defends Corbyn’s decision to walk out of PM’s cross-party Brexit talks after Chuka Umunna invited

Labour has scrambled to rectify any damage done by reports that Jeremy Corbyn walked out of a meeting with the prime minister at Downing Street last night because Chuka Umunna, the leader of the Independent Group and a former Labour MP, was also attending it.

Barry Gardiner, the shadow secretary of state for international trade, told the Today programme that Corbyn had already held a “20-minute, one-on-one” conversation with Theresa May and that the meeting the Labour leader left was actually with David Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister.

He also said participants in the meeting that Corbyn missed later said the prime minister had refused to cede any ground on her red lines.

Gardiner defended Corbyn’s walkout by questioning the legitimacy of the Independent Group. Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said:

Political parties have transparency about their funding arrangements. The Independent Group does not. My understanding is that they were there not for that meeting originally.

They were there for a meeting with David Lidington and because No 10 didn’t get its meetings sorted out they happened to be in the same room. It was chaos.

It is not about the process, it is about the substance. The people who came out of that meeting said ‘this meeting was simply for show, this meeting was simply so she could pretend that she was listening.’ She did not listen, she has not changed her red lines, she is not willing to compromise.

Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons yesterday.
Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons yesterday.
Photograph: Parliamentary Recording Unit Handout/EPA

Updated at 7.24pm GMT

9.28am GMT

On the Today programme this morning, Romano Prodi, the former European commission president and former Italian PM, said he thought EU leaders would agree to a longer article 50 extension. He explained:

I still think that there will be more time … there will be some compromise in order to get more time because really the common will against a hard Brexit is real.

Updated at 12.02pm GMT

9.12am GMT

May’s appeal to nation over Brexit backfires as MPs accuse her of stoking hate

Theresa May travels to Brussels today to formally request an extension to article 50 that would delay Brexit beyond Friday next week, when the UK is currently supposed to leave the EU. British prime ministers have often had difficult encounters with their EU counterparts over the years, but it is hard to think of one more demeaning for the PM, or one where the power gap between the UK and the EU27 has been wider. “Humiliating” is an adjective frequently overused in political reporting, but today it is the perfect description.

As if that was not bad enough, May seems to have hamstrung her own, slender chances of getting parliament to agree a deal next week by giving an evening address to the nation in which she blamed MPs for the Brexit deadlock. You can read the full text here, and it will make quite a good case study for the Guardian’s ongoing study of the new populism. “I am on your side,” May declared, as she framed the crisis as a clash between MPs and the people. Parliament was to blame because it “has done everything possible to avoid making a choice”, May claimed, apparently oblivious to the charge that she herself is an Olympic-grade procrastinator.

Unsurprisingly, the speech has infuriated MPs. My colleagues Heather Stewart and Jessica Elgot have some of their reaction here.

And here is more.

From Labour’s David Lammy

From Labour’s Jess Phillips

More worryingly for May, her speech was also denounced by Lisa Nandy, one of the relatively few Labour MPs who (until last night, at least) had sounded open to the prospect of being persuaded to vote for May’s deal.

Some Conservatives are unhappy too. This is what the former minister Sam Gyimah, a remain voter who is opposed to May’s deal, told the Today programme:

I think democracy loses when a prime minister who set herself against the House of Commons and then blames MPs for doing their job.

And this is particularly worrying given she knows MPs are receiving hate mail in their inboxes. Some MPs are receiving death threats.

And Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, says May was inadvertently making the case for a second referendum.

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Jeremy Corbyn holds talks in Brussels with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and Martin Selmayr, the European commission’s secretary general.

12.30pm (UK time): EU leaders start arriving for the EU summit.

After 6pm: Donald Tusk, the European council president, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, are due to hold a press conference after the discussion about Brexit. Theresa May is expected to hold one too.

You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe roundup of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.

If you want to follow me or contact me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

I try to monitor the comments BTL but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply ATL, although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter.

Theresa May making her Brexit statement in No 10 last night
Theresa May making her Brexit statement in No 10 last night.
Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Pool/EPA

Updated at 7.21am GMT © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

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