Here in Brussels, where it’s now past 9pm, we’ve been patiently awaiting a joint press conference from Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, to announce the European council’s decision on Theresa May’s request for a three-month Brexit delay. But a spokesman for Tusk has just announced that the discussions will continue over dinner – without the prime minister.
She addressed her fellow leaders earlier, in a 90-minute question and answer session that by all accounts did not go well, as she flatly refused to say what she plans to do if her deal is rejected for a third time.
There then commenced a prolonged period of horse-trading over what new exit date Britain should be offered, and on what conditions; with some leaders keen to remove the risk of an accidental no-deal Brexit next week – or the need to return to Brussels for an emergency summit – and others, including the French president Emmanuel Macron, taking a harder line.
Who knows where they’ll end up. But the outcome will make an enormous difference to how the next few days and weeks play out back in Westminster.
Talks on article 50 extension ongoing as France and Belgium push 7 May deadline
Discussions between the leaders are ongoing, and don’t appear to be close to being resolved.
France and Belgium are pushing for an extension to the 7 May date, with an option to extend until the end of the year.
The reason for the move by Emmanuel Macron, the French president, is in part that 8 May is a bank holiday in France. That would give him a buffer in case of the financial shock of a no-deal Brexit.
That bank holiday being la Fête de la Victoire’ – Victory Day – to celebrate the end of the second world war.
There is also an EU summit in the Romanian city of Sibiu on 9 May, where the bloc’s 27 heads of state and government are set to start planning the future of Europe without Britain.
The draft conclusions presented to leaders to debate at the head of today’s discussion had stated that the UK could extend until 22 May. The UK holds European elections on 23 May.
But Macron is also keen to avoid a no-deal scenario on 22 May – just ahead of the European elections in France on 26 May.
Under the Macron plan, there would also be an option for the UK to extend to the end of 2019 if the British government notified the EU of its intentions by 11 April.
That is the date by which the Electoral Commission would need to know if European elections are being held in the UK.
Any extension beyond 22 May would require European elections. It is an EU red line. The EU wants to protect its institutions from being improperly constituted through having the UK in as a member state but without MEPs in the parliament.
My colleagues Rowena Mason and Dan Sabbagh have also been looking at what Theresa May might do if her deal gets voted down. And, like the Financial Times (see 7.09pm), they have concluded that the evidence is pointing towards no deal.
Here is how their story starts.
Cabinet ministers believe there is now a real risk of a no-deal Brexit, with sources close to them describing the mood in government as depressing and No 10 as “run by lunatics”.
Senior members of the cabinet from both sides of the Brexit argument are understood to think the chances of the UK leaving without a deal have substantially increased after the prime minister set herself against a longer extension to article 50.
One aide to a cabinet minister said No 10 was in “full-on bunker mode” and the prime minister’s speech from Downing Street showed “they have all taken leave of their senses”.
Another soft-Brexit cabinet source described the mood as “depressing” and said of no deal: “The risk is now very real.”
But do read the whole thing. It’s here.
That’s all from me for tonight.
My colleague Kevin Rawlinson is now taking over.