The British government has laid groundwork that would enable it to participate in the European Parliament elections next month, should the UK still find itself in the EU by the time the vote takes place.
The move signals a possibility that Brexit could be delayed beyond the May 23 election date – nearly three years after Britons voted in a referendum to leave the EU – locking the UK into participating in the European poll. But the Cabinet Office cautioned that taking the legal steps did not mean elections were “inevitable,” saying they would be canceled if the UK has quit the EU by the eve of the vote.
“It remains the government’s intention to leave the EU with a deal and pass the necessary legislation before 22 May, so that we do not need to participate in European Parliamentary elections,” a Cabinet Office spokesperson told CNN.
“As a responsible government today we have taken the necessary steps required by law should we have to participate.”
Those steps include tabling the Day of Poll Order, which sets the date for elections to take place in the UK on May 23.
“The Day of Poll Order provides Returning Officers with a date to hold potential European Parliamentary elections, but it does not make these elections inevitable, as leaving the EU before the date of election automatically removes our obligation to take part,” the Cabinet spokesperson said.
Prime Minister Theresa May will travel to Berlin and then Paris on Tuesday in a final bout of Brexit diplomacy ahead of an emergency EU summit in Brussels on Wednesday.
Leaders of the remaining 27 EU member states are due to decide on May’s request for a further extension to the Brexit process, to June 30, at the summit.
Unless the EU agrees to a delay, the UK will leave without a deal on April 12, a scenario that business leaders and economists have warned would trigger chaos.
Having failed three times to get lawmakers to back her Brexit deal, May changed tactics last week to focus on winning support from the opposition Labour Party, a decision that has roiled the Brexiteer wing of her Conservative Party.
The Prime Minister and Labour were in talks on Monday, staging a last-ditch effort to agree a withdrawal deal after negotiations broke down.
A Downing Street spokesman told CNN on Monday that the Prime Minister wants to reach an agreement with Labour “as soon as possible.”