The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has written a letter to the President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, asking for an extension of the Lisbon Treaty Article 50 process.
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Just a quick update before I start, the PM has invited all opposition party leaders to a one hour meeting in Number Ten at 6 pm tonight.
She is then said to be preparing to make a statement to the nation.
A lot is being read into this, but I think it'll be the usual guff to try and garner national sympathy and support.
Now to business.
Shortly before appearing in the Commons for PMQs, the PM despatched a letter to the EU Council president asking for a short, one-off extension to Article 50 to last until the 30th of June.
But as I have pointed out many times before, the EU commission is adamant that, if the UK is still within the Article 50 process and therefore still an EU member at the start of the EU parliament elections on the 23rd of May, then the UK must participate in those elections.
And the EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, has already made that clear in an earlier, public letter.
Referring to a telephone call today between Juncker and May, a spokesman for the Commission President said:
"European elections have to be held if the extension date is beyond May 23. This is the position of the commission and this is what the president informed the prime minister again."
And the latest reports indicate that the PM will either get a short extension up to the elections, or a much longer extension on the promise that the UK takes part.
Pity for our Remainers then, that the EU Parliament elections act of 2002 was repealed last year by the Withdrawal Act 2018. So as far as I can see, we have no legal mechanism to hold MEP elections until that act is replaced.
Paris also threw an early spanner into the works with the French foreign minister saying that his country would not be happy to automatically go along with a UK that was simply playing for time and so France could just say no.
However, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has yet to take an official stand on it.
So that indicates to me that some sort of negotiation is taking place here. And I have to wonder what the cost would be and to which side – and knowing Theresa May she's got something in mind to give away, fishing grounds maybe?
But it would only take one of the EU27 countries to veto an Article 50 extension, so forcing the UK out of the EU on the 29th March.
And in that case the government will come under intense pressure from Remainers across the country to just unilaterally Revoke Article 50 completely and sort it all out later.
But Theresa May has today ruled that out and the Brexit secretary speaking at the Commons Dispatch box also said the same thing at 3:55 this afternoon.
But how many times have we heard the absolute assurance from Theresa May and all those in government that we would be leaving the EU at 11 pm on Friday the 29th march?
There are reports that Operation Yellowhammer, the UK Treasury's contingency plan for a no deal Brexit, could be put into operation in five days time.
In a letter to colleagues the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, wrote:
"Operation Yellowhammer command and control structures will be enacted fully on 25 March unless a new exit date has been agreed between the UK and the EU."
We're now approaching the point of no return from a no deal Brexit scenario!
The Shadow Brexit secretary and arch Remainer, Keir Starmer, has tabled an emergency motion under House of Commons standing order number 24.
The Speaker has accepted it and, despite a shouted objection from one Tory Brexiteer MP, I believe it was Peter Bone, over forty other MPs stood up in response and this forces the debate to take place. The Speaker then said the debate, which is usually held the next day, would be held later today and duly commenced for three hours starting at 3:20 PM.
The motion is: "That this House has considered the matter of the length and purpose of the extension of the Article 50 process requested by the government."
All I expect to hear from these people is that, while Brexiteers wish to hail the 29th of March as UK Independence Day, those Remainers want to label it our EU Dependence Day.
However, any outcome from this motion will have no direct impact on the fact that – repeat after me – the default legal position is still that the UK will leave the EU on WTO terms in nine days time at 11 pm on Friday the 29th March 2019.
Senior minister tells me PM is making statement to nation tonight. And tells me ministers reading a good deal into @theresa_may saying at #PMQs words to the effect that she won't remain PM if Brexit delayed beyond 30 June. Hmmm
— Robert Peston (@Peston) March 20, 2019