Brexit: Talk of delay, but no conclusions

Theresa May, Angela Merkel and other leaders at EU-Arab League summit Image copyright Getty Images

What is Theresa May really willing to do if her deal falls in Parliament?

Increasing numbers of EU leaders and her own government ministers believe that she should acknowledge that she might have to delay the UK's departure from the EU if her agreement is rejected by MPs again next month.

The president of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, says it's "rational" to consider.

Extending the process was discussed by Theresa May and Angela Merkel over breakfast this morning - but not with any conclusion.

But the prime minister, herself, will do almost anything to avoid answering the question.

She told me: "I am clear what I am working for is to ensure that we get a deal negotiated with the European Union that addresses the concerns of Parliament, such that Parliament votes for that deal and we are able to leave with a deal."

Before too long, though, Parliament may make her respond.

Even if Theresa May offers worried former Remainers a concession this week, risking the wrath of Brexiteers, a delay would not necessarily be easily accepted by the European Union.

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, told me the UK would have to ask for an extension and explain what it's for - the EU could not, he warned, just spend another couple of months going round in circles.

Downing Street privately believes they are making genuine progress towards an extra assurance on the controversial Irish backstop, that would make the deal more palatable to Tory backbenchers - hoping that could mean they never have to make the choice of delay, or no deal.

But with time so short now - even if the deal is approved by MPs next month - another few weeks may still be needed to pass all the new laws that are required.

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