Theresa May last night conceded that any delay to Brexit was “a matter of deep personal regret” as she used a live Downing Street address to pile pressure on MPs to back her unpopular deal.
Speaking from Number 10, the Prime Minister said the public has “had enough” of the Brexit debate and wanted politicians to focus on other issues.
Yesterday morning, May asked the EU to extend the Article 50 exit process to 30 June to give the UK more time to get a deal through parliament.
She vowed not to back a further delay, and in her statement from Downing Street urged MPs to back her deal at what would be the third time of asking.
She said: “This delay is a matter of deep personal regret for me and of this I am absolutely sure you the public have had enough. You’re tired of the infighting, you’re tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows, tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns about our children’s schools, our national health service, knife crime,” adding: “It’s now time for MPs to decide.”
The UK will only get an extension if all 27 EU countries agree to the move.
Speaking ahead of a summit starting in Brussels today, European Council president Donald Tusk warned May that a short extension would be conditional on MPs passing her deal next week.
If the deal is rejected, Tusk said he was prepared to call an emergency summit of EU leaders to decide what should happen next.
According to a European Commission report leaked to Reuters, the EU would want any delay beyond 23 May to be significantly longer and require the UK’s participation in European elections – a prospect May has described as unthinkable.
The PM’s bid for a delay to Brexit prompted anger from Remain- and Leave-backing Tory MPs.
Brexiter Nigel Evans described May going “cap in hand to the European Union asking for an extension” as a “total humiliation” for the UK.
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who is opposed to Brexit, told the Commons the sight of May rebuking Parliament for its role in the process was “the worst moment I have experienced since I came into the House of Commons”.
He added: “I have never felt more ashamed to be a member of the Conservative Party or be asked to lend her support.”
The despair felt by MPs was echoed in a Sky Data poll published yesterday, which revealed 90 per cent of the public think the Brexit talks have been a “national humiliation”.
Any hope that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would emerge as a unifying figure were called into doubt last night after he refused to attend a meeting with May when he saw Chuka Umunna – who recently quit his party – was also invited.
The Streatham MP was representing the Independent Group – made up of ex Labour and Tory MPs – at a meeting of opposition leaders last night.
Corbyn walked out of the meeting just minutes before it was due to begin when he saw Umunna was present.