03 April 2019 02:00
A petition calling on Theresa May to cancel Brexit by revoking Article 50 has attracted more than 900,000 signatures. It comes as the prime minister heads to Brussels to ask the EU for a delay to next Friday's Brexit date. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told BBC Radio 4's Today revoking Article 50 was possible but "highly unlikely". Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said she had been made aware of technical problems with the site, but she dismissed the petition as not being on the same scale as the pro-Brexit vote in the 2016 referendum. "Should it reach 17.4 million respondents then I am sure there will be a very clear case for taking action," she told MPs. In January, MPs debated whether the UK should leave the EU without a deal, after a petition calling for that got 371,673 signatures.
MPs have been sharing the revoke Article 50 petition on social media, including Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake, who said Mrs May's "cliff-edge ultimatum" had led "hundreds of thousands" to sign. Pete Wishart, who was among a number of SNP MPs who shared the petition, called on the public to sign and "end the madness". But Conservative MP Andrew Bowie said the only way to rule out a no-deal Brexit "at all" was to back the prime minister's deal. Even the most ardent anti-Brexiteers know it would be political suicide for any prime minister to overturn a referendum result without going back to the people. The government will have a third try at getting MPs to back Theresa May's EU withdrawal deal in a Commons vote next week, but only if it thinks it has enough support to win.
DUP's Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson has said there is no point in his party agreeing to something that is not deliverable. Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Mr Wilson said there are "lots of gaps in the negotiations at present" but the DUP will continue to talk to British Prime Minister Theresa May. However, he added, the party has made it clear that unless there are legal means by which Northern Ireland will not be treated differently to the rest of the UK, the DUP will not support the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said we are in unchartered waters and at a "dangerous tipping point" in Brexit negotiations. Mrs May is to appeal to EU leaders to grant her a delay to Brexit as she makes a further attempt to get her withdrawal deal through parliament. With just eight days before the UK is due to leave the EU, the prime minister will make the case for extending the Article 50 withdrawal process to June 30 at a Brussels summit today.
Ahead of the meeting, European Council president Donald Tusk said a "short" delay should be possible - but only if MPs finally back her deal before the deadline day on 29 March. Meanwhile, a petition calling for the British government to revoke Article 50 crashed the official petitions website. More than 600,000 people have now signed the petition, which calls for support to remain in the EU, surpassing the 100,000-signature threshold needed for it to be debated in parliament. In her Downing Street statement, she blamed MPs for failing to implement the result of the 2016 EU referendum and told frustrated voters: "I am on your side." Revoke Article 50 began trending on Twitter following Mrs May's speech and continued to be a global trend this morning. The petition had reached more than 610,000 signatures before the website began showing an error message shortly after 9am on Thursday, with around 584,000 of those signing from the UK. Theresa May has blamed MPs for failing to implement the result of the 2016 EU referendum, and told voters who want Brexit to be over: "I am on your side." In a televised address from Downing Street, Mrs May said that it was "a matter of great personal regret" for her to have to ask for a three-month delay to Britain's withdrawal from the EU, which was due to take place on March 29. She will go to Brussels on Thursday to make a formal request to the other 27 EU leaders for an extension to the two-year Article 50 negotiation process. Earlier, European Council president Donald Tusk said he believed a short delay "would be possible" after he spoke to the Prime Minister by phone. But he said that the extension – which must be agreed unanimously by the EU27 – was likely to be conditional on Mrs May succeeding in forcing her twice-rejected Brexit deal through Parliament. Speaking behind a lectern in 10 Downing Street, Mrs May said that MPs – who rejected her deal by 230 votes in January and 149 last week – had been "unable to agree on a way to implement the UK's withdrawal". Donald Tusk said a short delay to Brexit should be possible if MPs approve Mrs May's deal (Frank Augstein/AP/PA) The Prime Minister said MPs had so far done "everything possible" to avoid making a decision on the way forward. "I passionately hope MPs will find a way to back the deal I have negotiated with the EU. In his statement, Mr Tusk said it should be possible for EU leaders meeting in Brussels to approve an extension to Article 50, although the "question remains open" as to the duration. He said it should then be possible to finalise the deal through the "written procedure" without the need for another summit – provided it secured the backing of MPs. "Although Brexit fatigue is increasingly visible and justified, we cannot give up seeking until the very last moment a positive solution," he said. through both Houses of Parliament next week to remove the March 29 leaving date from Brexit laws. Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after making a statement about Brexit in Downing Street At a stormy session of Prime Minister's Questions she told MPs she intended to table her Withdrawal Agreement for a third time in the Commons, in the hope of overturning massive defeats inflicted on it in January and March.