Frustrated Theresa May seeks Brexit extension

Anti Brexit campaigners outside parliament Image copyright Getty Images

After a very stormy Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, with splits and spats over how long to delay our departure from the EU, ministers left with different impressions of whether the prime minister had made an actual decision.

But the expectation, and certainly the insistence of a group of ministers there, including those who threatened to quit if the government didn't accept the idea of delaying Brexit, was that Theresa May would acknowledge that a long pause might be required even though it's not what she wants.

The impression given was that she would say a short extension was the ideal, but a longer one might be required.

One cabinet minister told me after the meeting, they thought she would ask for up to two years.

However, with this saga's endless capacity to surprise and, more to the point, a significant chunk of the Tory party against any delay, Number 10 is now indicating that in fact, Theresa May will not ask for a long pause, but merely a short window, in the hope of getting her deal through somehow, and quickly.

A source says: "The prime minister won't be asking for a long extension. There is a case for giving Parliament a bit more time to agree a way forward, but the people of this country have been waiting nearly three years now. They are fed up with Parliament's failure to take a decision and the prime minister shares their frustration."

When her letter to the EU actually emerges, the final wording will be key - will she rule out ever seeking a longer delay?

Will the text be clear that if Parliament fails to meet its second deadline, then the prime minister will argue for leaving without a deal done?

Ultimately remember, the decision on the length and conditions attached is down to the EU, not the UK.

But as things stand, the prime minister seems to be ratcheting up the pressure for the next few weeks in the hope of pushing her deal through a reluctant Parliament, rather than accepting that the dilemma and level of disagreement is so profound, that a longer rethink might be what is required.

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