Brexit: UK ‘has to fight European elections’, says David Lidington

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Media captionBrexit: European elections will go ahead says senior minister

The UK will have to fight 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 the 23 May, it is legally obliged to take part in the EU-wide poll and to send MEPs to Brussels.

The government has resumed talks with Labour to try and 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.

Cabinet Office Minister Mr Lidington said: “Given how little time there is, it is regrettably not going to be possible to finish that process before the date that’s legally due for the European Parliamentary elections.

“We very much hoped that we would be able to get our exit sorted… so that those elections did not have to take place, but legally they do have to take place unless our withdrawal has been given legal effect.”

Mr Lidington said the government would be “redoubling efforts” in its talks with other parties to find a way forward to “make sure that the delay after [the elections] is as short as possible”.

And he said that “ideally” MEPs voted for by the UK would never have to take their seats in the European Parliament, as the session does not start until July.

“We would like to be in a situation… certainly to get this done and dusted by the summer recess,” he added.

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