May Planned to 'Run Down the Clock' on Brexit, Westmacott Says
Theresa May gambled her political future on a desperate bid to get her Brexit deal approved by Parliament, as the European Union drove Britain to the brink of an economically disastrous no-deal divorce.
The standoff plunges the U.K. deeper into a political crisis that now seems likely to push the Brexit endgame into the final hours before next week’s deadline.
Under pressure from euroskeptic Conservatives, the prime minister formally proposed delaying Britain’s exit from the EU until June 30. But the bloc warned this limited extension will only be possible if she can persuade members of Parliament to vote for her deal in the next nine days.
In a dramatic announcement in Parliament on Wednesday, May declared she would personally not be associated with a lengthy postponement that would keep the U.K. in the bloc beyond the middle of the year.
“As Prime Minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June,” May told a noisy House of Commons. “The outcome of a long extension would be the House spending yet more endless hours contemplating its navel on Europe and failing to address the issues that matter to our constituents.”
European Council President Donald Tusk said such a short Brexit extension would only be possible if Parliament agrees to enact the existing divorce deal -- which it’s twice overwhelmingly rejected -- by the existing exit day of March 29, giving May just over a week to convince MPs.
May, who will travel to Brussels on Thursday for talks with other EU leaders, appeared to have ignored advice from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in making her decision. He told the prime minister in a telephone call on Wednesday morning that the latest end-date for a short extension was May 23, when EU Parliament elections start, his spokeswoman, Mina Andreeva, said on Twitter.
May was accused of reneging on pledges she and her ministers made a week ago. Then, in order to help win crucial votes in Parliament, the government indicated that if the House of Commons hadn’t approved her Brexit deal by now, she’d request a longer extension.
One of the most excoriating critiques during a debate forced by the opposition Labour Party came from the normally mild-mannered former Attorney-General Dominic Grieve, a member of her own Conservative Party. He accused her government of "fast running out" of integrity and said May’s question-and-answer session in Parliament on Wednesday "was the worst moment" in his 22 years as an MP.
"I have never felt more shame to be a member of the Conservative Party or to be asked to lend her support," Grieve said. "She spent most of her time castigating the House for its misconduct. At no stage did she pause to consider whether in fact it is the way she is leading this government which might be contributing to this situation."
He added that he could have "wept to see her reduced to these straits, and wept to see the extent to which she was now zigzagging all over the place rather than standing up for what the national interest must be.”
The government has promised MPs it will put forward a motion in the House of Commons on Monday, which they can use to explore different models of Brexit, and a government official indicated a third vote on the Brexit deal may be held on Tuesday or Wednesday next week.