EU leaders have granted Theresa May’s request to delay Brexit, giving the UK a two-tier extension.
After crunch talks at a summit in Brussels that ran late into the night, the premiers formally announced 29 March 2019 should be scrapped as the date Britain will leave the EU.
They softened the immediate threat of a no-deal divorce by offering a delay until 22 May if MPs pass the prime minister’s Brexit deal by the end of next week.
© PA Prime Minister Theresa May gave her reaction at a midnight news conference
But if parliament rejects it again in “meaningful vote” three, the UK faces a new hard deadline on 12 April.
At that point it must “indicate a way forward” – including asking for a long Brexit delay and to take part in the EU Parliament elections – or fall out of the bloc with no deal.
Mrs May pressed her case for a delay to EU leaders earlier on Thursday evening, speaking to them for nearly 90 minutes – one of her longest addresses yet in such a forum.
She was excluded from the talks where they made the final decision, which ended up running over four hours late.
Finally EU Council President Donald Tusk declared “unanimous agreement” and informed the prime minister.
In a midnight news conference, Mrs May said the news “underlines” the “importance” of MPs backing the Brexit deal.
She softened her tone after facing a backlash 24 hours before for blaming parliament for the delay, acknowledging that “last night I expressed frustration but I know MPs are frustrated too”.
© Getty Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk joked about the ‘special place in hell’ comment
The prime minister also for the first time promised if she fails to get a deal ratified next week then the Commons could more easily assert what kind of Brexit it could vote for.
In response to a question by Sky News, she vowed to “stand by the commitments” made last week by her de-facto deputy David Lidington for “indicative votes” on other divorce scenarios.
But Mrs May refused to acknowledge any blame for the situation branded a “national emergency” in a rare joint statement on Thursday by the Trade Union Congress and Confederation for British Industry.
The prime minister will hope the pressure of a no-deal Brexit now unfolding two weeks later than could have been expected bounces MPs into backing her deal.
She was helped by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who announced at a news conference minutes earlier there was “no more the EU can give”.
When asked how long a long extension could be, he added: “Until the very end.”
Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk shared a laugh as they were confronted by comments made last month about there being a “special place in hell” for people who campaigned for Brexit without a plan for how to carry it out.
The EU Council President joked: “According to our Pope, the hell is still empty. It means that there are a lot of spaces.”