Theresa May has announced she will ask the EU for another “short as possible” delay to Brexit beyond April 12 in order to avoid a no-deal exit.
Speaking inside No.10 Downing Street, the prime minister said she would invite Jeremy Corbyn for talks to come up with a plan they could “both stick to”.
The move suggests the UK could be heading towards a softer Brexit than she initially planned and will anger pro-Brexit Tory MPs.
May said if a way forward could not be found by the EU Council summit on April 10, then a number of alternative options would be put to a vote in parliament.
And crucially, the PM said the government would abide by whatever option the Commons chose.
May said a bill to pave the way for the UK to leave the EU would have to be in place by May 22 to ensure Britain did not have to take part in European Parliament elections.
The decision came following a seven-hour cabinet meeting inside No.10. May said: “We will need a further extension of Article 50 – one that is as short as possible and which ends when we pass a deal.
“And we need to be clear what such an extension is for: to ensure we leave in a timely and orderly way.
“This is a decisive moment in the story of these islands and it will require national unity to deliver the national interest.”
Dover MP Charlie Elphicke said: “Imposing the EU customs union with Labour votes would be appalling. It would break a clear Conservative manifesto pledge. Our trade policy would be made in Brussels - not Britain. I will oppose this.”
And fellow Tory Michael Fabricant said if talks with Corbyn led to the UK remaining in a customs union or to a second referendum, he “will not vote for the Withdrawal Agreement 4th time round”.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said: “Even if, after today, we don’t know what the end result will be, let us be patient.”
Last week MPs rejected the withdrawal agreement by 344 votes to 286 – a margin of 58.
And on Tuesday a cross-party bid was launched to force the government to stop no-deal Brexit by tabling a bill requiring the prime minister to extend the negotiation process beyond April 12.
Last night the Commons failed to unite behind an alternative to May’s plan during a series of so-called “indicative votes” on other options.
Corbyn said he is “very happy” to meet May after she offered to sit down with him to agree a plan which allows the UK to leave the EU with a deal.
He said: “We will meet the Prime Minister.
“We recognise that she has made a move, I recognise my responsibility to represent the people that supported Labour in the last election and the people who didn’t support Labour but nevertheless want certainty and security for their own future and that’s the basis on which we will meet her and we will have those discussions.”
Corbyn added: “However people voted in the referendum in 2016, whether they voted remain or they voted leave, they didn’t vote for lower living standards, they didn’t vote to lose their jobs.
“And actually there’s far more that unites people on both sides about the kind of society we can be than divides them.”
He said the question of whether the UK takes part in the EU elections was not the most important question, rather that the most important issue was “to make sure we don’t crash out of the EU next week with no deal, and what I believe would be a degree of chaos that would follow as a result”.