Theresa May has written to European Council president Donald Tusk to request Brexit be extended to June 30.
In the letter, the prime minister asks for the option to terminate the extension earlier but accepts that if the UK is still an EU member state on May 23 it will have a “legal obligation” to take part in the European elections.
She tells Tusk that the UK will make “responsible preparations” if her withdrawal agreement is not ratified before the trigger date.
Britain is due to leave the European Union at the end of next week, but May is seeking to delay Brexit for a second time after her deal was rejected for a third time last week.
She adds: “The Government will want to agree a timetable for ratification that allows the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union before 23 May 2019 and therefore cancel the European Parliament elections, but will continue to make responsible preparations to hold the elections should this not prove possible.”
EU sources have said Tusk will recommend the UK be offered a one-year Brexit extension, with a break clause should a Brexit deal be agreed by MPs, when leaders meet for a crunch summit on Wednesday.
May wants her preferred date of June 30 to be flexible, however, writing: “If the parties are able to ratify before this date, the Government proposes that the period should be terminated early.”
Top-level talks will continue between the Government and Labour today, aimed at finding a way out of the Brexit deadlock.
The discussions are taking place as Prime Minister Theresa May faces a week of hectic diplomacy as she battles to keep her EU withdrawal agenda on track.
If Brussels refuse to agree any extension, the UK is due to leave the EU on April 12. No withdrawal deal has yet been agreed on by MPs.
But according to attorney general Geoffrey Cox, the government would “consider” a second referendum as a way of breaking the Brexit deadlock.
He told the BBC’s ‘Political Thinking with Nick Robinson’ podcast this week that a “good deal of persuasion” would be needed, but that the government “would consider any suggestion that’s made”.
On Wednesday, MPs voted by a majority of one to give May a mandate to ask the EU for an extension.
May says postponing the Brexit date further is crucial in avoiding a no-deal scenario, yet if she wants to keep the delay as short as possible, she and Jeremy Corbyn will have to agree on a proposal to be voted on by April 10.
If they fail to reach an agreement by that date, May will propose alternative options to MPs.
Responding to May’s request for delay, Corbyn told Sky News: “We have said all along that we don’t think the European elections are an issue one way or the other.
“The more important thing is to get an agreement on our future relationship with Europe and how we deal with that.
“If there are European elections we will obviously contest them.”