Brexit could be delayed by three months under new plans being drafted to break the deadlock in parliament, HuffPost UK has learned.
Under the cross-party move, the current legal deadline for quitting the EU would be postponed from March 29 to June 30.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who has teamed up with Tory Nick Boles to avoid a no-deal exit, will be urged by senior Labour figures and others to replace her current plan for a nine-month delay and adopt a shorter period instead.
One key reason for the June 30 date is that it would avoid a potential political headache caused by the new European Parliament sitting on July 2.
Britain has no plans to take part in the Euro elections but if the UK remains in the EU after July, it would in theory still be paying money to Brussels without any democratic representation in the form of MEPs.
Jeremy Corbyn met Cooper and fellow MP Rachel Reeves on Wednesday in a bid to forge a common plan that would ensure Labour’s official backing for their amendments.
One senior shadow cabinet minister told HuffPost UK that the three-month period was seen as the one most likely to win the maximum Commons backing, and Cooper was very open to changes.
A Labour MP added: “June 30 is the only realistic extension. It gets us out of the problems of the European elections.”
Tory backbenchers in particular feel that a shorter delay would be more palatable to ensure a majority. Labour MPs who oppose a second referendum are also more likely to back a short extension rather than delay to the end of the year.
HuffPost understands that Cooper’s main intention is to keep her plans flexible so that at the end of February, Parliament can itself decide how long it wants to delay Exit Day.
Her bill makes clear the required Commons motion will be amendable, particularly on dates, at the point when MPs decide to implement it.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said on ITV’s Peston on Wednesday evening: “It’s relatively simple to extend until the 1st of July because the European elections and incoming MEPs don’t take up their functions until the 2nd of July and it is more difficult and legally complicated to do it for longer than that. There’s room for discussion and argument”
The ‘Cooper-Boles’ amendment, which seeks to set aside a full parliamentary day to enact a bill instructing the PM to seek the extension, has already won support from across the political spectrum since it was tabled on Monday.
It aims to force May to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’ Brexit by insisting that if no Commons majority for any deal is agreed by February 26, May will have to delay Exit Day for a set period.
Crucially, eight Tory backbenchers have already signalled their support and at least 13 are expected to back it - enough to deliver a stunning Commons victory to force May’s hand.
John McDonnell signalled on Tuesday that Labour was ‘increasingly likely’ to throw its weight behind the Cooper-Boles amendment.
Reeves told HuffPost that she was “really pleased” by the meeting with the Labour leader in his Commons office.
“It was a very good meeting on the way forward. We have already built a cross-party coalition in recent weeks on Yvette’s Finance Bill amendment and on Dominic Grieve’s business motion,” she said.
“MPs across all parties all share the same number one objective now: not to crash out of the EU on March 29 without a deal, with all the damage to jobs and the economy that would cause.”
Reeves’s amendment “requires the Prime Minister to seek an extension” if no agreement has been reached by February 26. But Cooper’s amendment has the added protection of a new bill to instruct May to comply. “We need Yvette’s bill because we just don’t trust the government to deliver otherwise,” Reeves said.
With some Labour MPs in Leave areas set to defy any whip on the delay, the vote on Cooper-Boles could be tight.
Backbencher Caroline Flint told the BBC’s Politics Live on Wednesday: “It’s not taking us any further forward, it’s another process-y device...I’m not inclined to vote for it.”
A No.10 spokesman sparked speculation of a short delay when he said that the problem with the Cooper plan was that it involved a ‘significant’ extension to Article 50.
Some government insiders believe that a short extension would in fact be helpful to the PM to allow the necessary legislation to be completed for a smooth exit from the EU.
May has stuck to her formula that ‘the UK will leave the EU on March 29’, as planned under the two-year Article 50 process needed to comply with European law.
But she has repeatedly resisted ruling out any request for a short extension, and during Prime Minister’s Question time on Wednesday she said only that delaying the vote would just mean ‘delaying the point of decision’.
No.10 is braced for a backlash from Tory Eurosceptics who believe that any delay would ‘betray’ the 17 million Leave voters in the 2016 referendum.
Some Tory hardliners have not given up hope of undermining the Cooper-Boles plan by attempting to block any legislation it needs in the House of Lords.
However, the EU has indicated recently that a ‘technical’ extension of a few weeks could apply if the UK decided on a deal late and needed more time to implement legislation.
One minister told HuffPost UK that it was possible to ‘leave and not leave at the same time’, if the Commons agreed a ‘meaningful vote’ on a deal, but lacked the time to pass the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill needed to change the law.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s co-ordinator on Brexit, paved the way for more flexibility on Tuesday when he said Article 50 could be extended beyond the summer.
In a separate move, the government pulled a motion on Wednesday night to allocate Parliamentary days to Private Members’ Bills.
Tory backbencher Sir Christopher Chope had tabled an amendment which would have prevented any further time for such bills, effectively killing Cooper’s plans and sparking a fresh Commons clash. The motion will be re-tabled next week, sources said.