Theresa MayImage copyright HOC

Theresa May has told MPs it remains her “priority” to deliver Brexit, defending the decision to delay the UK’s exit from the EU by more than six months.

The new deadline of 31 October, set following late-night talks in Brussels, means the UK is likely to have to hold European Parliament elections in May.

The prime minister promised to pursue an “orderly” Brexit, adding that the “whole country” was “frustrated”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the latest delay a “diplomatic failure”.

Brexit was originally set to happen on 29 March. But after MPs repeatedly rejected Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement with the EU, the deadline was put back to 12 April.

The new 31 October deadline averts the prospect of the UK having to leave the EU without a deal this Friday.

But, under EU rules, the UK will have to hold European Parliament elections in May, or face leaving on 1 June without a deal.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Mrs May said she “profoundly” regretted her deal not being agreed to by MPs.

She said: “The whole country is intensely frustrated that this process of leaving the European Union has not been completed.”

On the latest delay, she said: “The choices we face are stark and the timetable is clear. I believe we must now press on at pace with our efforts to reach a consensus on a deal that is in the national interest.”

Mrs May also told MPs that backing her deal would mean there was no need for European Parliament elections.

Talks with Labour

The government is continuing to hold talks with Labour aimed at achieving a consensus on how to break the deadlock in Parliament.

Mrs May said: “Reaching an agreement will not be easy, because to be successful it will require both sides to make compromises.

“But however challenging it may be politically, I profoundly believe that in this unique situation where the House is deadlocked, it is incumbent on both front benches to seek to work together to deliver what the British people voted for.”

Mr Corbyn said: “The second extension in the space of a fortnight represents not only a diplomatic failure but is another milestone in the government’s mishandling of the entire Brexit process.”

He added: “The prime minister has stuck rigidly to a flawed plan and now the clock has run down, leaving Britain in limbo and adding to the deep uncertainty of business, workers and people all across this country.”

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, urged Mrs May to use the extra time to hold a second EU referendum.

“It’s now a very real possibility that we can remain in the European Union,” he said.

“As of today, there are 204 days until the new Brexit deadline on the 31 October, so will the prime minister now remove the ridiculous excuse that there isn’t enough time to hold a second referendum with remain on the ballot paper?”

Brexiteer Conservative MP Sir Bill Cash accused the prime minister of “abject surrender” to the EU in allowing the delay and said she should resign.

Before the Brussels summit, Mrs May had told leaders she wanted to move the UK’s exit date from this Friday to 30 June, with the option of leaving earlier if Parliament ratified her agreement.

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Media captionConfused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics.

What was agreed in Brussels?

  • A Brexit extension “only as long as necessary” and “no longer than 31 October” to allow for the ratification of the withdrawal agreement
  • The UK “must hold the elections to the European Parliament” and if it fails to do this, the UK will leave on 1 June
  • The European Council reiterates there can be no reopening of the withdrawal agreement negotiations

European Council President Donald Tusk said future developments were “entirely in the UK’s hands”, adding: “They can still ratify the withdrawal agreement, in which case the extension can be terminated.”

Mr Tusk said the UK could also rethink its strategy or choose to “cancel Brexit altogether”, but urged: “Please do not waste this time.”

The EU had been split over the length of delay to offer the UK, and by law its other 27 member states had to reach a unanimous decision.

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