Theresa May's Brexit letter to the EU: the key points

The PM has requested a delay to the UK’s exit, but what else does she say?

Theresa May has written to the EU seeking a short delay to Brexit until the end of June. Here are the key points she made and what they mean:

1. Brexit will not be delayed past 30 June while she is prime minister

The letter contains a technical request from May for a three-month delay to the UK leaving the EU under the article 50 process. The purpose for this is to allow her deal to be approved by the House of Commons. But it also contains a statement that she will not countenance a longer extension if her deal does not pass, because she does not want the UK to have to elect a new slate of MEPs in May, ready to take their seats in July. She states: “I do not believe that it would be in either of our interests for the UK to hold European parliament elections.” Her words in the House of Commons were even more explicit: that she would not allow a longer delay “as prime minister”. It is a hint that she could either resign if her deal does not pass or pivot to endorsing a no-deal Brexit – both options that would be music to the ears of hardline Eurosceptics holding out against voting for her withdrawal agreement.

2. May tries to blame parliament for deadlock

The prime minister begins her letter saying she warned MPs that the consequences of “failing to endorse the deal were unpredictable and potentially deeply unpalatable”. May is trying to make the case that it will not be her fault if there is further chaos because the government falls or the UK exits with no deal. But those who reject the deal – from Labour to the hardline Eurosceptics – are doing so because they believe what she has negotiated is not good enough.

3. MPs will vote again on her deal next week

May acknowledges that the Speaker’s ruling has made it impossible for her deal to be put to the House of Commons this week before the European council meeting. But, she says: “It remains my intention to bring the deal back to the house.” This will surely be the last roll of the dice for the deal, and May will want to be sure that she has more MPs onboard before she attempts it.

4. She will present new proposals to win over the DUP and other Eurosceptics

There is a cryptic reference in the letter to “further domestic proposals that confirm my previous commitments to protect our internal market, given the concerns expressed about the backstop”. This appears to be further reassurance for the DUP that there will be no divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country in the event that the backstop comes into force. She also requests approval for “supplementary documents that President Juncker and I agreed in Strasbourg”, which will help her argue to the Speaker that her motion to parliament is different.

5. There is no plan for what happens if her deal does not pass – but she dropped a heavy hint she would resign

The conspicuous omission in the letter is any plan for what happens if May’s deal does not pass. Parliament will attempt to seize control in this circumstance and find a way of holding votes to determine whether there is a soft Brexit plan that can win consensus across the House of Commons. This would necessitate a longer extension to article 50 if the UK is to avoid the no-deal outcome parliament has voted against. May is silent about these likelihoods, but has made it clear she will not preside over an extension.


Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

The GuardianTramp

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