May, back in Parliament, tries to defend Brexit extension to skeptical lawmakers
Stressing extension wasn't her wish, May said MPs should fulfil their 'national duty'
Granted a Brexit reprieve by the European Union, British Prime Minister Theresa May urged lawmakers Thursday to pause, reflect on the need for compromise — and then fulfil their "national duty" to approve a divorce deal and take Britain out of the EU.
But there was little sign the U.K.'s divided and exhausted lawmakers had heeded the EU's plea not to waste the six months of extra time granted to Britain at an emergency summit in Brussels.
We need to resolve this, so that we can leave the European Union with a deal as soon as possible. This is our national duty as elected members of this House.- Theresa May, Britain's prime minister
Updating the House of Commons hours after the 27 other EU leaders agreed to postpone Brexit until Oct. 31, May said she knew the country was "intensely frustrated" by the impasse.
"I never wanted to seek this extension," May said. She urged members of Parliament to take stock and "reflect" over a 10-day Easter break that starts Friday.
"We need to resolve this, so that we can leave the European Union with a deal as soon as possible," she said. "This is our national duty as elected members of this House."
Consensus, however, was in short supply.
Opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, with whom May hopes to strike a compromise accord, called the Brexit delay "another milestone in the government's mishandling of the entire Brexit process."
"The prime minister stuck rigidly to a flawed plan and now the clock has run down, leaving Britain in limbo," Corbyn said.
'We're giving them a very long time': Irish PM
And there was little solace for May on her own side of the House of Commons, as pro-Brexit lawmakers from her Conservative Party accused her of capitulating in Brussels.
Brexiteer Conservative legislator Peter Bone said May had once vowed that she would not keep the U.K. in the EU past June 30.
"So I expect her to say when she's leaving in the next few days and then the announcement of a Conservative leadership contest," he said.
You know, the European Union is not a prison. Nobody has to stay but it is also a home, and we are not going to kick anyone out.- Irish PM Leo Varadkar
May went to Brussels on Wednesday seeking to postpone Brexit after U.K. lawmakers rejected — three times — the divorce deal she had struck with the EU.
The bloc had already granted Britain a delay once from the original March 29 deadline. Last month, EU leaders gave Britain until this Friday to approve a withdrawal plan, change course and seek a further delay to Brexit, or crash out of the EU with no deal to cushion the shock.
EU leaders, weary of the Brexit melodrama and divided over how long a delay to grant, met for more than six hours before agreeing to postpone Brexit until Halloween. Britain has the option of leaving before that if May succeeds in getting a withdrawal agreement ratified by Parliament.
"Please, do not waste this time," European Council President Donald Tusk said.
May said she was satisfied with the flexible extension to Oct. 31, which keeps alive her hope the U.K. might leave by June 30.
May told the House — in an oft-repeated mantra — that passing an EU withdrawal agreement quickly would allow Britain to avoid taking part in European parliamentary elections set for late May, an unpalatable prospect to many Conservatives.
Labour, engaged in Brexit talks with the Conservatives, seeks to retain close economic ties with the EU after Brexit. The party accuses the government of failing to offer concrete changes to its Brexit blueprint.
Labour also fears any promises made by May could be undone by her successor, who is likely to come from the staunchly pro-Brexit wing of the Conservative Party.
A 'dystopian future'
Corbyn had harsh words for the Conservatives jockeying to succeed her who prefer a no-deal Brexit than a softer break, accusing them of setting up the country for a "dystopian future."
British businesses expressed relief at the Brexit delay. The Confederation of British Industry said it meant an "imminent economic crisis" had been averted for now.
Pro-EU campaigners argue that politicians have failed and the next few months should be used to hold a new referendum on whether to leave the EU or remain.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a tweet after the extension was granted that the British people should be allowed to "decide if they still want to leave."
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the time had come for Britain to decide what it wants. "We're giving them a very long time to take a decision," he said.
"You know, the European Union is not a prison. Nobody has to stay but it is also a home, and we are not going to kick anyone out."