Theresa May's letter to MPs in full
I am writing to inform you of the conclusions of the European Council with respect to Brexit.
As you know, on Wednesday I wrote to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council:
• requesting the approval of the Instrument relating to the Withdrawal Agreement and the Joint Statement supplementing the Political Declaration that I agreed with President Juncker in Strasbourg on 11 March;
• reporting the Speaker's statement on Monday that in order for a further meaningful vote to be brought back the agreement would have to be "fundamentally different - not different in terms of wording, but different in terms of substance" and that, as a result, some colleagues were pressing for further changes to the Withdrawal Agreement; and
• requesting a short extension to the Article 50 process.
Asking for an extension is a matter of great personal regret for me. As I set out to the House on 12 March, I am passionate about delivering the result of the referendum. But I am equally passionate that the best way to do so is to leave in an orderly way with a deal and I still believe there is a majority in the House for that course of action. I am also conscious of my duties as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of the potential damage to that Union that leaving without a deal could do when one part of our country is without devolved governance.
I am pleased to say that the European Council approved the legally-binding assurances relating to the backstop and alternative arrangements that I agreed with President Juncker in Strasbourg. These should increase the House's confidence that the backstop is unlikely ever to be used and would only be temporary if it is.
The Council made it clear "that there can be no opening of the Withdrawal Agreement that was agreed between the Union and the United Kingdom in November 2018".
I warned the House of Commons when I spoke in the second meaningful vote debate that it was "not a guarantee that any extension would be agreed by the European Union or that it would agree an extension in the terms in which the United Kingdom asked for it".
So it proved. After a lengthy discussion, the Council agreed that if the House approves the Withdrawal Agreement next week then the date of our departure will be extended to 22 May in order to provide time for Parliament to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which is necessary for the deal to be ratified.
If the House does not agree the Withdrawal Agreement next week, the Council agreed the date of our departure will be extended to 12 April. At this point, we would either leave with no deal or "indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council" - but that if this involved a further extension it would mean participation in the European Parliamentary elections. As I have said previously, I strongly believe that it would be wrong to ask people in the UK to participate in these elections three years after voting to leave the EU.
The Council's conclusions have been turned into a legal decision, which comes into force today. We will need to alter the date of our withdrawal in domestic legislation by Statutory Instrument, but the Decision sets the new date of our departure.
The Council's decisions mean we have a clear choice:
1. We can revoke Article 50 - but that would be to betray the result of the referendum.
2. We can leave with no deal on 12 April - but the House has previously said this is not something it will support.
3. If it appears that there is not sufficient support to bring the deal back next week, or the House rejects it again, we can ask for another extension before 12 April - but that will involve holding European Parliament elections.
4. If it appears that there is sufficient support and the Speaker permits it, we can bring the deal back next week and if it is approved we can leave on 22 May.
Finally I want to say something about my statement on Wednesday night, which a number of colleagues have raised concerns about. I expressed my frustration with our failure to take a decision, but I know that many of you are frustrated too. You have a difficult job to do and it was not my intention to make it any more difficult. People on all sides of the debate hold passionate views and I respect those differences. I would like to thank all of those colleagues that have supported the deal so far and also those that have taken the time to meet me to discuss their concerns.
I hope we can all agree that we are now at the moment of decision. If you would like to speak to me over the coming days as Parliament prepares to take momentous decisions, please contact my office.