Theresa May has written to the European Union to request a further delay to Brexit until 30 June.
The UK is currently due to leave the EU on 12 April and, as yet, no withdrawal deal has been approved by MPs.
The prime minister has proposed that if UK MPs approve a deal in time, the UK should be able to leave before European Parliamentary elections on 23 May.
But she said the UK would prepare to field candidates in those elections in case no agreement is reached.
EU leaders must agree unanimously whether to grant an extension to the Article 50 process, under which the UK leaves the EU, after MPs repeatedly rejected the withdrawal agreement reached between the UK and the bloc.
BBC Europe editor Katya Adler has been told by a senior EU source that European Council President Donald Tusk will propose a 12-month “flexible” extension to Brexit, with the option of cutting it short, if the UK Parliament ratifies a deal.
But his proposal would have to be agreed unanimously by EU leaders next week. The prime minister wrote to Mr Tusk to request the extension ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.
She requested an extension to the end of June at the last summit, which took place shortly before 29 March – the date the UK was originally meant to have left the EU.
But she was offered a short delay to 12 April – the date by which the UK must say whether it intends to take part in the European Parliamentary elections – or until 22 May if UK MPs had approved the withdrawal deal negotiated with the EU. They voted it down for a third time last week.
Why 30 June?
The 30 June date is significant.
It’s the day before the new European Parliament will hold its first session. So the logic is, that it would allow the UK a bit longer to seal a deal – but without the need for British MEPs to take their seats in a parliament that the UK electorate had voted to leave as long ago as 2016.
But, this being Theresa May, it’s a plan she has previously proposed – and which has already been rejected.
It’s likely the EU will reject it again and offer a longer extension, with the ability to leave earlier if Parliament agrees a deal.
But by asking for a relatively short extension – even if she is unsuccessful – the prime minister will be hoping to escape the ire of some of her Brexit-supporting backbenchers who are champing at the bit to leave.
And she will try to signal to Leave-supporting voters that her choice is to get out of the EU as soon as is practicable – and that a longer extension will be something that is forced upon her, rather than something which she embraces.
In her letter, the prime minister says the “impasse cannot be allowed to continue”, as it was “creating uncertainty and doing damage to faith in politics” in the UK.
She said if cross-party talks with the Labour Party could not establish “a single unified approach” in the UK Parliament – MPs would be asked to vote on a series of options instead which the government “stands ready to abide by”.
She wrote that the UK proposed an extension to the process until 30 June and “accepts the European Council’s view that if the United Kingdom were still a member state of the European Union on 23 May 2019, it would be under a legal obligation to hold the elections”.
To this end, she says the UK is “undertaking the lawful and responsible preparations for this contingency”.
But it said if a withdrawal agreement could be ratified by Parliament before then “the government proposes that the period should be terminated early” so the UK can leave the EU before then, and cancel preparations for the European Parliamentary elections.
President of the European Council Donald Tusk thinks he may have found a solution. Though it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
He’s proposing what he calls a “flextension” which could see the UK signing up to a one-year-long Brexit delay with the option to cut it short as soon as Parliament ratified the Brexit deal.
Mr Tusk believes the arrangement would suit the EU and the UK – and as one EU official put it to me: it would avoid Brussels potentially being faced with “endless” UK requests for repeated short extensions every few weeks.
EU leaders will discuss Mr Tusk’s proposal at their emergency Brexit summit next Wednesday. By law, their decision must be unanimous.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told journalists: “We still hope to leave the EU in the next couple of months. That is our ambition.”
But he said the UK may have “little choice” but to accept a longer delay if Parliament could not agree a solution.
“Our first choice is to leave quickly and clearly and deliver on the referendum result,” he said.
But Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg tweeted that, if the UK were to be “stuck in the EU” it should be “as difficult as possible”.
Another Tory Eurosceptic, Sir Bernard Jenkin, said he would prefer to stay in the EU for another year than for Britain to accept a “humiliating defeat” of a withdrawal agreement.
Talks between Labour and the Conservatives are continuing on Friday. Thursday’s talks, according to a letter Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Labour MPs, covered issues including potential customs arrangements, single market alignment, internal security and a “confirmatory” vote on any deal agreed.
“Technical” discussions between the parties’ negotiating teams on Thursday were described as “detailed and productive” by the government.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that negotiations were “making progress” and both sides were hoping for “a creative solution” – which could include another referendum.