Minister hints May could request Article 50 extension

PUBLISHED: 10:45 25 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:45 25 February 2019

Theresa May (centre) has a breakfast meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) at the EU-League of Arab States Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Theresa May (centre) has a breakfast meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) at the EU-League of Arab States Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

A minister has suggested there was a possibility of Theresa May herself announcing an extension of the two-year Article 50 negotiation process beyond March 29.

Defence minister Tobias Ellwood told Today: “The prime minister is listening and is recognising the fact that we have tried very, very hard in order to secure a deal.”

Asked if she could announce an Article 50 extension after her return from talks with other EU leaders in Egypt, he said: “You need to wait and hear what she has to say when she gets back.

“That, I don’t know. I’m encouraging that to happen because it’s not in anybody’s interest to see no deal.”

But Theresa May has insisted to EU leaders that she is against extending Article 50 to allow more time for talks on a withdrawal deal.

A senior UK government official said Article 50 was mentioned “briefly” in the 45-minute talks and the PM remained with the view that such a move would only “delay decisions”.

The official added: “They did discuss Brexit, they discussed UK parliament, things that have been happening in UK parliament, things that are happening this week.”

Ellwood called on Brexiteer MPs in the European Research Group (ERG) to “fall in line” to help May secure a deal.

“She has done her utmost to appease the ERG,” he said. “The referendum itself was done with them in mind, the Article 50 letter was sent with them in mind, the motions have been delayed and written with the ERG in mind.

“It’s now important for them to fall in line. We would not be having this conversation about no deal if it wasn’t for the fact that, I’m afraid, there’s been a bloc voice in our party that has hindered the prime minister getting this across the line.

“She may get the necessary concessions and legal agreements concerning the backstop, but, ultimately, the clock is ticking down. If we cannot get this deal across the line, we are facing the prospect of having to extend.”

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