May made the announcement on Tuesday following a marathon seven-hour cabinet meeting to try and find a solution to the political impasse over Brexit.
“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,” May said in a televised statement.
The UK is set to leave the bloc on April 12 without a deal, unless the government can agree on an extension with EU leaders.
May said that while she believed a no-deal scenario could be made a success of, in the long run, it would be better to leave the EU with a deal in place and in order to do this she would seek an extension.
She said that any plan would need to involve passing her withdrawal agreement, which has so far failed three times win majority support in parliament.
In an attempt to find parliamentary support, May offered to sit down with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn to find a deal both parties – the ruling the Conservative party and the Labour party – could agree on.
“Today I am taking action to break the logjam. I am offering to sit down with the leader of the opposition and to try to agree a plan that we would both stick to ensure that we leave the European Union and that we do so with a deal,” she said.
If the two can agree on a deal, it will be voted on by MPs before a European Council summit scheduled for April 10.
May has said that should she and Corbyn not be able to reach an agreement, she would allow MPs to vote on how they would like the Brexit negotiations to continue. May pledged to respect the will of parliament should such a vote occur.
Taking back control?
May’s announcement came after a cross-party group of 12 MPs, led by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, said they will try to pass a law that would force May to seek a delay to Brexit in order to prevent a potentially chaotic no-deal exit on April 12.
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from outside 10 Downing Street, May’s official residence, said that with Tuesday’s announcement, May has taken back control of the Brexit process.
“You could say that she [May] has almost jumped before she was pushed because the MPs were adamant that they were going to put this motion in front of parliament on Wednesday in order to seize control again and essentially compel the prime minister to go back to Brussels and ask for an extension. What she’s done by announcing this is to seize back control of the process,” he said.
The other 27 EU member states must agree to any further delay to the Brexit negotiating period and have said that the UK would need to provide a suitable reason for such a delay.
‘Let us be patient’
Corbyn has welcomed May’s offer of Brexit talks but warned that he reserved the right to try to bring the government down if it is incapable of getting a majority in parliament for its deal.
“We hold the reserve the right to bring a motion of no-confidence in the government if the government proves it’s incapable of commanding a majority in the House of Commons – time will tell on that,” he said in a TV interview, adding that Labour would try to block a no-deal Brexit.
“Our responsibility as the opposition is to make sure that we don’t crash out,” he said.
John Johnston, a reporter for news website Politics Home, told Al Jazeera that the overture was a significant one that could spell trouble in her Conservative Party.
“It is now clear to the prime minister that she cannot get this deal through with the votes from her own party so this very likely means that they will be seeking – potentially – a softer Brexit deal than she had been putting forward,” he said.
“We may still see some resignations from her cabinet over this. They had been very keen for the government to commit to a no-deal if they failed to pass her deal”.
“If the United Kingdom is not capable, almost three years after the referendum, of coming forward with a solution that is supported by a majority, it will have effectively chosen a no-deal exit on its own,” Macron said, adding that whether an alternative plan involved a snap election, a referendum or a customs union was for Britain to decide.
Even if, after today, we don’t know what the end result will be, let us be patient. #Brexit
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) April 2, 2019
“It’s up for London to say it, and to say it now … The EU cannot be held hostage to the resolution of a political crisis in the United Kingdom on a long-term basis.”
European Council President Donald Tusk struck a more conciliatory tone, urging the need for patience in a post on Twitter, following May’s announcement.
“Even if, after today, we don’t know what the end result will be, let us be patient,” he wrote.