The UK will have to hold European elections, despite hopes from the government a Brexit deal would be done by then, says the PM’s de facto deputy.
The vote is due on 23 May, but Theresa May said the UK would not have to take part if MPs agreed a Brexit plan first.
Now, David Lidington says “regrettably” it is “not going to be possible to finish that process” before the date the UK legally has to take part.
He said the government would try to make the delay “as short as possible”.
The UK was due to leave the EU on 29 March, but as no deal was agreed by Parliament, the EU extended the deadline to 31 October.
It can leave the bloc earlier, but if the UK has not left by 23 May, it is legally obliged to take part in the EU-wide poll and to send MEPs to Brussels.
Mrs May’s spokesman said she “deeply regrets” that the UK did not leave as planned in March and recognised many people felt “great frustration” that the European elections were going ahead.
But she hoped Parliament would agree a Brexit plan before MEPs start their session in July.
The deadline to register for the EU elections was Tuesday 7 May.
The government has resumed talks with Labour to try to break the deadlock in Parliament over the terms of withdrawing from the EU. It has promised that if no compromise is reached it will offer indicative votes on possible next steps to Parliament.
Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said Tuesday’s talks were “very robust”, but nothing had been agreed, and the government still needed to move on its “red lines” in order to reach a compromise.
A Labour source told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg that talks had been “tense” with some frustration on the Labour side and said there were still “fundamental” problems and divisions between the two sides.
The government was being “disingenuous” to suggest that ministers were offering a significant new compromise beyond what was already available in the existing agreements with the EU, the source said.
Downing Street said the talks had been “constructive and detailed” and they would continue on Wednesday afternoon.
“Constructive and detailed” – that sounds quite positive – Number 10’s description of the talks today.
“Robust” – not quite so chirpy – Labour’s use of political speak for what most of us might call a bit tricky.
“Disingenuous” – oh dear – a different Labour source’s description of ministers’ claim that what they were putting on the table in the cross-party talks today was something genuinely new on the vexed question of customs arrangements after we leave the EU.
As we reported this morning there didn’t really seem to be much from the government that was concrete beyond what’s already possible under the agreement that’s been hammered out with Brussels.
The divorce deal and indeed yes, you guessed it, the backstop, both have forms of temporary customs unions in them to make trade between the UK and the EU easier.