The EU’s top Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said Theresa May will have to extend Article 50 in order to pass the Withdrawal Agreement even if she secures a majority for her deal by March 12. Speaking to Spanish media, Mr Barnier said such a delay is now “unavoidable” for technical reasons needed to implement the deal. His deputy, Sabine Weyand, then infuriated Brexiters by liking a tweet which explained the diplomat’s comments to the Madrid press.
The tweet, in English, said an “extension now unavoidable – will be granted”.
Mr Barnier’s comments come as the Prime Minister’s government allies launched a co-ordinated campaign to pressure MPs into backing her deal to avoid having to extend Article 50.
Justice minister Rory Stewart appeared on Sunday morning television today with an emphatic rejection of any delay to Brexit.
Mr Stewart said he had reservations about leaving with no deal if the Withdrawal Agreement is voted down by MPs again.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday he would rather delay Brexit but that would “resolve nothing” compared to backing the deal.
The Penrith MP said, “Personally, I think we would have to be forced into an extension for Article 50”, if Mrs May’s deal is not agreed when it is next put before MPs.
However he added: “I think people need to understand that that is a worse option than the Prime Minister’s deal.
“Extension to Article 50, which is going to be a vote which would effectively give, let’s say, a couple of months extension, would resolve nothing.
“It would put us in a world in which we were still in a zombie world, not knowing where we are going.”
Meanwhile the Prime Minister’s cabinet supporters Andrea Leadsom and Jeremy Hunt issued a joint warning against colleagues plotting to extend Article 50 in the hope of cancelling Brexit altogether.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mrs Leadsom, the Leave-voting leader of the House of Commons, and Remainer foreign secretary Mr Hunt, said no-deal would cause “ruptures” that could be avoided by the “far more attractive option in the PM’s deal”.
The pair wrote: “As we progress towards March 29, two other options have emerged to cast a shadow over the process – in the shape of no-deal, or extending Article 50.
They added: “All of our hard work will be lost if we fail to keep our nerve at such a crucial point.
“It would be a profound mistake for the EU to decline to address the clear-stated concerns of the UK Parliament and in effect risk forcing the very thing they say they do not want to see – a no-deal Brexit that risks a hard border.”
“The active pursuit of a delay to Brexit – with no purpose beyond frustration – is a betrayal of the referendum result.
“It would lead to an irretrievable breach of trust with those who are already cynical about the will of Westminster to deliver on the result to begin with.