Theresa May defends Brexit delay amid calls to resign

German Chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May as she arrives at the Chancellery in Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May as she arrives at the Chancellery in Berlin

The extension to Article 50 - the mechanism that notifies when Britain will leave the European Union - does not mean negotiations will reopen between the bloc and the UK.

Whether May will remain in office to see through any Brexit strategy is increasingly in question, and the Prime Minister was forced to respond to calls to resign from hardline Brexiteers on her own backbenches.

However senior Tories warned the pressure on her to go would "increase dramatically" amid frustration among MPs that there is still no certainty as to when Britain will leave.

She admitted that the talks under way between the government and Labour to identify common ground would not be easy and required each side to compromise.

Theresa May is preparing one final attempt to win backing for her Brexit blueprint to avoid the United Kingdom being forced to vote in next month's elections to the European Parliament.

Mrs May however suggested the two sides were not as far apart on the issue as was sometimes claimed. The UK should have left the European Union by now and I sincerely regret the fact that I have not yet been able to persuade Parliament to approve a deal which would allow the UK to leave in a smooth and orderly way.

A No 10 source said they would continue to pursue the dialogue as long as they believed it was making progress, but added: "Bluntly, we won't continue to talk for the sake of it".

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She said: "We need to resolve this".

People present at Wednesday night's crisis summit in Brussels said the prime minister appealed to her continental peers to appreciate the significance of her move to launch talks with her Labour opponents, saying the last united front between the two big parties in the fiercely tribal Westminster parliamentary system was when Britain faced a German "blitzkrieg" bombing campaign and invasion threat.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the second Brexit extension in the space of a fortnight represents "not only a diplomatic failure, but is another milestone in the government's mishandling of the entire Brexit process".

The new date is Halloween, though last night French President Emmanuel Macron dug his heels in and demanded the new date be 2020.

Under the terms of the agreement, the United Kingdom can leave at any time if the Withdrawal Agreement reached last November is ratified by the Westminster Parliament.

Mrs May told an early morning press conference that she still wanted the United Kingdom to leave the European Union "as soon as possible".

Tusk said his "message to British friends" was "please do not waste this time".

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