Theresa May on Wednesday told the House of Commons that she is “not prepared to delay Brexit any further than the 30 June” but reports leaking from the European Union suggested otherwise.
May told MPs at a boisterous Prime Minister's questions session that a longer delay would mean “a failure to deliver” on the result of the 2016 referendum but some in Westminster have accused her of pandering to the hard-Brexiteers in her party.
The PM argued that she wanted the UK to avoid taking part in EU elections, which take place on 23-26 May.
But the length of a short extension to Article 50 could be even shorter than expected, with the EU continuing to insist that 23 May is the only plausible short deadline.
However, European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told May the withdrawal has to be complete before this date, a spokesman revealed on Wednesday, “otherwise we risk facing institutional difficulties and legal uncertainty” from the European elections. Juncker had already set out this deadline in a letter earlier this month.
“European elections have to be held if the extension date is beyond May 23. This is the position of the commission and this is what the president informed the prime minister again,” the spokesman said.
Leaked EU documents, according to a report from Reuters, indicated the bloc is unwilling to extend the deadline beyond 23 May unless the UK accepts a much longer delay.
“Any extension offered to the United Kingdom should either last until 23 May 2019 or should be significantly longer and require European elections. This is the only way of protecting the functioning of the EU institutions and their ability to take decisions,” officials said in the leaked document.
The pound tumbled after the EU reports emerged, falling 0.9% to 1.3155 against the dollar and 1.1584 on the euro.
In a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk, May wrote that the extension was required as she had wished to bring her deal to a Commons vote for a third time this week but had been prevented from doing so by Speaker of the House John Bercow, who cited legal precedent that stretches back to 1604 in order to block a third vote on largely unchanged proposals.
However, the Prime Minister stressed that it remains her intention to seek another vote but would need an extension to allow time for Parliament to ratify the deal.