Given the opposition within the UK to Mrs May’s negotiated Withdrawal Deal, EU leaders are expecting an imminent request from London to extend article 50. European Council president Donald Tusk is ready to convene a special leader’s summit as soon as the UK requests the extension. An EU official said: “Should the Prime Minister survive and inform us that she needs more time to win round Parliament to a deal, a technical extension up to July will be offered.”
Pushing Brexit beyond the March 29 and into July would mean the UK would have to once again participate in another round of European Parliament elections in May.
If a longer extension is granted these elected UK MEPs could take their seats when the new European Parliament assembles in July.
Now that Conservative backbenchers are prepared to unite with Labour to vote the deal down, Brussels is prepared to support the Prime Minister in using a delay to avoid crashing out without a deal on the March 29.
As Danielle Haralambous, a UK analyst at the Economist Intelligent Unit think tank, said: “The Government will need to buy more time, and we think the EU will be willing to provide it to avoid a cliff-edge situation.”
In a last ditch bid to persuade MPs to back Theresa May’s deal the European Commission is set to issue a letter today which outlines fresh assurances the Irish backstop is temporary.
It has also been suggested that if there was a delay the EU would be open to renegotiating the terms of the deal, including a reassessment of the backstop if Theresa May was to pivot towards a permanent customs union.
Mujtaba Rahman, a former Treasury and commission official and head of Europe for the Eurasia Group risk consultancy, said: “We think the EU will be willing to go back into the withdrawal agreement and rethink the backstop if the UK can reach a credible position that leaders believe will land an orderly withdrawal.
“If the UK position were, for example, to evolve towards a permanent customs union, that could alter the dynamic of thinking around the backstop.”
Meanwhile, Mrs May warned yesterday of a “catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust” in democracy if Brexit is stopped.
Writing in the Sunday Express, she said: “When you turned out to vote in the referendum, you did so because you wanted your voice to be heard.”
Her comments were made amid calls from key conservatives to revoke Article 50.
Ken Clarke has insisted the UK is “not ready” to leave the EU and former Prime Minister Sir John Major has said it would be “morally reprehensible” to exit without a deal.