Theresa May has agreed a delay to Brexit until Halloween after EU leaders offered another extension to Article 50 at a late-night Brussels summit.
In the early hours of the morning, leaders of the remaining 27 EU member states decided to give the prime minister an extra six-and-a-half-month period in which to break the Brexit deadlock at Westminster.
European Council President Donald Tusk warned the UK: “Please do not waste this time.”
The second extension to Article 50 secured by Mrs May means a no-deal Brexit will now not take place at 11pm on Friday night, as the point of the UK’s departure from the bloc shifts again.
Under the terms of the extension, if Mrs May finally gets her withdrawal agreement approved by the House of Commons prior to 31 October, the UK could leave the EU earlier than that date.
Speaking at a news conference after the summit concluded, the prime minister acknowledged “huge frustration from many people” that she had to ask for another delay, which follows three defeats in parliament for her withdrawal agreement.
Mrs May will explain the latest delay to Brexit to the House of Commons later, while the government will also continue cross-party talks with Labour aimed at reaching a compromise Brexit deal.
She said: “The UK should have left the EU 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.
“But the choices we now face are stark and the timetable is clear.
“So we must now press on at pace with our efforts to reach a consensus on a deal that is in the national interest.”
The prime minister insisted the UK could still avoid having to hold European Parliament elections on 23 May if her withdrawal agreement is finally approved by MPs in the first three weeks of next month.
The government has begun preparations to hold those elections, but will cancel the polls if Brexit is agreed before they are due.
The EU27 agreed, if the UK fails to leave the EU by 23 May but also does not hold European elections, it will leave with no deal on 1 June.
Under the terms of the latest Brexit delay, the EU27 included a review point at the bloc’s scheduled June summit, although Mr Tusk stressed this would not present another “cliff edge”.
Mrs May recommitted the UK to “sincere cooperation” during the extension, which follows claims by Tory Brexiteers that Britain could behave disruptively if stuck in a long delay to Brexit.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte expected the extension to be the “last delay” to Brexit. He said: “On 31 October, the British will either have agreed to a deal, have decided to cancel Brexit or leave without a deal.
“But then we will have had six more months to prepare for that.”
In talks lasting more than six hours, EU leaders were said to be divided over the terms of the offer to the UK.
Seventeen member states were claimed to want a long extension to March next year.
But French President Emmanuel Macron was said to be among those wanting a shorter extension to 30 June – as Mrs May had requested prior to the summit.
Eventually, it appeared minimising disruption to EU institutions due to Brexit was forefront of leaders’ minds, with the 31 October date coming on the eve of a new European Commission being installed in Brussels.
In her news conference, Mrs May avoided questions over her future in Downing Street.
Earlier, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told Sky News that Mrs May should be gone before the Conservative Party conference at the end of September.
But Tory sources said she was standing by commitments made to her party’s 1922 committee that she would step down once her withdrawal agreement is ratified, which could now be as late as the end of October.
This would allow a new Conservative leader to take over the second phase of Brexit negotiations, focused on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Mrs May had previously told MPs that “as prime minister” she could “not consider a delay further beyond 30 June”.
Despite the seriousness of Wednesday’s summit, with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looming, German Chancellor Angela Merkel shared a laugh with Mrs May as she used an iPad to share images of the both of them wearing similar blue outfits as they had addressed their respective parliaments earlier in the day.
In a 66-minute address to EU27 leaders, during which she grilled by the bloc’s heads of government, the prime minister then requested a further extension to the Article 50 period until 30 June.
She spelled out how her government is currently engaged in cross-party talks with Labour with the aim of achieving a compromise Brexit deal that can finally end parliament’s impasse.
Mrs May then left the room as the EU27 discussed her request over a dinner of warm scallop salad, cod loin with brown shrimps and mini mushroom arancini, followed by iced macadamia nut parfait.
She later returned to the summit building to be told the news of the EU27’s decision by Mr Tusk.