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UK officials consider extending Article 50: report



LONDON — British and European officials have discussed delaying Brexit amid fears Theresa May’s proposed withdrawal deal will be rejected in parliament.

Three sources told the Telegraph that UK officials had been “putting out feelers” and “testing the waters” about extending Article 50, the legal mechanism which is scheduled to take the UK out of the EU on March 29.

“Until now, this didn’t come up, but we’re hearing it more and more now,” a source said.

The EU has previously suggested the UK could be granted an Article 50 extension to pass legislation or to hold a referendum or general election. It would require the consent of the 27 remaining EU member states.

Downing Street insists that it remains firmly opposed to extending Article 50.

May still faces resounding defeat

Theresa May

The news comes after one of Theresa May’s ministers admitted for the first time that the UK could seek to delay the EU exit process to avoid a chaotic no-deal scenario.

Digital Minister Margot James told the BBC on Monday that the UK government could be forced to seek an extension if MPs vote down the prime minister’s deal with the EU this month.

We might have to extend Article 50

James told the BBC that she hoped MPs would get behind May’s deal but added: “If that proves to be impossible then I think we have very little time left, but we might have to extend Article 50.

Downing Street dismissed James’s comments, but it has increased fears among Brexit-supporting MPs that Downing Street could seek to delay the UK’s EU exit.

Theresa May plans to put her Brexit deal before parliament next week, having delayed the vote in December after admitting the deal would be defeated by a significant margin.

There remains widespread opposition to the Irish backstop measure, which opponents of May’s plans say could keep the UK locked in a customs union indefinitely, with different rules applied to Northern Ireland.

The EU has so far refused to offer any legal concessions on the backstop and does not intend to, although UK officials hope it could issue a further document which clarifies the measure is only intended to be temporary.

The prime minister had hoped to soften opposition to her plans over Christmas, and she held a drinks reception with Tory MPs at Downing Street on Monday evening in the hope of persuading wavering MPs to back her deal.

But none of the approximately 120 Tory MPs who have spoken out against her deal has publicly changed their position, and defeat next week appears almost certain.

Theresa May will hold her first Cabinet meeting of the year on Tuesday morning, where ministers are expected to discuss ongoing preparations for a no-deal Bexit.

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