Macron warns UK must have good reason to request Brexit delay

French President Emmanuel Macron has suggested the UK will need a good reason to delay its scheduled departure from the European Union on March 29.

In a dramatic U-turn on Tuesday, Theresa May announced she will allow MPs to vote on an extension to the two-year negotiation period set down in the EU’s Article 50 if she has not secured Parliament’s approval for her deal by March 12.

The Prime Minister had been expected to face a wave of ministerial resignations if she had maintained her refusal to countenance delay as MPs take part in a series of votes on Wednesday evening.

An amendment calling for Parliament to take on powers to impose an extension was among five selected by Speaker John Bercow at the start of the latest afternoon-long  Brexit debate in the House of Commons.

But Mrs May’s climbdown has taken much of the sting out of the occasion, with no resignations expected and the amendment’s tabler Dame Caroline Spelman indicating she may not force it to a vote if she receives adequate reassurance on the PM’s intentions.

Also selected was an amendment from Labour’s Yvette Cooper, simply restating Mrs May’s promises in the hope of pinning her down to them with a motion passed by the House.

Speaker John Bercow selected five Brexit amendments for debate in the House of Commons (www.parliamentlive.tv/PA Images)

Any extension of Article 50 will require the unanimous agreement of the remaining 27 EU states.

But Mr Macron said that any request from Britain would need to be justified by “a clear perspective on the goal,” adding: “We don’t need time, we need decisions.”

Speaking at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris, the French president said: “We would support an extension request only if it was justified by a new choice of the British.”

Mrs Merkel said: “If Great Britain needs more time we will not oppose it but of course we are seeking an orderly exit. We regret this step, but it is reality and we now have to find a good solution.”

Meanwhile, Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez told the Madrid Parliament he would not oppose an extension if it pointed the way to a resolution of the Brexit issue, but warned: “Prolonging uncertainty by postponing deadlines is not a reasonable nor desirable alternative.”

Countdown to leaving the EU
(PA Graphics)

MPs will also debate Jeremy Corbyn’s amendment calling for the adoption of  Labour’s customs union plan for Brexit. If it is rejected by MPs, he has indicated he will throw the party’s weight behind calls for a second referendum.

Also selected was an SNP call for a no-deal Brexit to be ruled out “under any circumstances and regardless of any exit date” and a proposal by Conservative MP Alberto Costa for a UK/EU treaty to protect citizens’ rights in the event of no-deal.

Mr Costa quit his position as an unpaid parliamentary aide in the Scotland Office, despite Home Secretary Sajid Javid saying he supported his proposal and Downing Street making clear that Mrs May does not oppose it.

A Number 10 source said the South Leicestershire MP had breached a long-standing convention that members of the administration – including parliamentary private secretaries (PPSs) – cannot table amendments to Government motions.

But Labour said he had effectively been sacked. Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said his removal “prolongs the anxiety and uncertainty that over five million people have faced for two and a half years”.

The 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK and the 1.5 million Britons living on the continent “don’t deserve to be treated as a political football kicked between the Home Office and Number 10”, said Ms Abbott.

Costa
Alberto Costa quit as a Government aide to table proposals to defend citizens’ rights (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA Images)

Opening debate in the Commons on a neutral motion tabled by the Prime Minister, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington stressed that the Government’s Brexit objectives had not changed as a result of Mrs May’s offer of votes on blocking no-deal and extending Article 50.

Earlier, Tory Brexiteers signalled a more flexible stance on demands for legal guarantees limiting the Northern Ireland backstop.

Prominent Leave backer Jacob Rees-Mogg indicated he could swing behind the Government’s exit deal if binding legal assurances were added to an appendix to the Withdrawal Agreement, rather than put in the treaty itself.

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