European Union leaders have granted the UK a six-month extension to Brexit, after five hours of talks in Brussels.
The new deadline – 31 October – averts the prospect of the UK having to leave the EU without a deal on Friday, as MPs are still deadlocked over a deal.
European Council president Donald Tusk said his “message to British friends” was “please do not waste this time”.
Theresa May, who had wanted a shorter delay, said the UK would still aim to leave the EU as soon as possible.
The UK must now hold European elections in May, or leave on 1 June without a deal.
The prime minister had earlier told leaders she wanted to move the UK’s exit date from this Friday to 30 June, with the option of leaving earlier if her withdrawal agreement was ratified by Parliament.
BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said one government minister had told her that the delay could mean a Conservative Party leadership contest after Easter, with potentially a new prime minister by June.
- Brexit: A really simple guide
- Trick or treat? Halloween deadline is both
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There’s been no progress whatsoever, really.”
He added that it was still “difficult to see how” Mrs May could get her deal with the EU through Parliament and said: “The pressure on her to go will increase dramatically now, I suspect.”
Mr Tusk emerged from the talks – and a subsequent meeting with Mrs May – to address reporters at a news conference at 02:15 local time (01:15 BST).
He said: “The course of action will be entirely in the UK’s hands. They can still ratify the withdrawal agreement, in which case the extension can be terminated.”
Mr Tusk said the UK could also rethink its strategy or choose to “cancel Brexit altogether”.
He added: “Let me finish with a message to our British friends: This extension is as flexible as I expected, and a little bit shorter than I expected, but it’s still enough to find the best possible solution. Please do not waste this time.”
What was agreed?
- A Brexit extension “only as long as necessary” and “no longer than 31 October” to allow for the ratification of the withdrawal agreement
- The UK “must hold the elections to the European Parliament” and if it fails to do this, the UK will leave on 1 June
- The European Council reiterates there can be no reopening of the withdrawal agreement negotiations
Read the EU’s conclusions here.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “There will probably be a European election in the UK – that might seem a bit odd, but rules are rules and we must respect European law and then we will see what happens.”
You couldn’t quite make it up. The new Brexit deadline is, you guessed it, Halloween.
So to get all the terrible metaphors about horror shows, ghosts and ghouls out of the way right now, let’s consider straight away some of the reasons why this decision is a treat in one sense, but could be a trick too.
A treat? First and most importantly, the EU has agreed to put the brakes on. We will not leave tomorrow without a deal.
The prime minister’s acceptance that leaving the EU without a formal arrangement in place could be a disaster won out.
And there are quite a few potential tricks. This new October deadline might not solve very much at all.
This could, although I hate to say it, just make way for months of extra gridlock before the UK and the EU find themselves back here in a similar situation in the autumn.
The EU had been split over the length of delay to offer the UK and by law its other 27 member states had to reach a unanimous decision. Although other EU countries backed a longer delay, French President Emmanuel Macron pushed for a shorter extension.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Macron said: “For me, this is a good solution.”
He said EU leaders had partly decided to back a delay because Mrs May had explained she had started talks with the opposition party – “a first in decades in the British political system”.