Brexit will be delayed for up to two months under plans being considered by Theresa May to extend Article 50, The Daily Telegraph has learned.Downing Street officials have drawn up a series of options to try to avoid resignations by ministers who have said they are determined to support a backbench bid to take a no-deal Brexit off the table this week.The Prime Minister yesterday said she would postpone a meaningful vote on her deal by up to two weeks, until March 12, just 17 days before the UK is due to leave the European Union.The Telegraph understands that the plans, which were circulated at the weekend, include making a formal request to Brussels to delay Brexit if a deal is not secured by then.It came as the prime minister failed to secure a breakthrough “deal in the desert” during talks with European leaders at an EU-Arab summit in Egypt.She said that leaving by March 29 was “still within our grasp”, a far more downbeat assessment than her previous insistence that Britain would leave the EU on Brexit day.While the Downing Street plans do not specify the length of the extension, ministers believe it would be no longer than two months — avoiding the need for the UK to participate in European parliament elections in May.Parliament wants to see changes to the backstop. We have been working with the EU on that. Our focus is on leaving with a deal
On Wednesday, the Commons will vote on a backbench bill tabled by Yvette Cooper, a senior Labour MP, that would force May to request an extension to Article 50 if a deal has not been reached by March 13.The prime minister could avert a rebellion by Tory MPs and a Commons defeat by committing to request a Brexit delay herself, although in doing so she would risk alienating Eurosceptic Tory MPs. “It’s very finely balanced,” a source said.The Telegraph can also disclose that a group of moderate Tory MPs will today table a new amendment that would require May to extend Article 50 if she cannot secure a deal.The amendment, put forward by Simon Hart, leader of the 100-strong Brexit Delivery Group, states that the extension to Article 50 must not go beyond May 23.It came as May resisted calls to sack three Cabinet ministers who argued openly that Article 50 should be extended. Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary, David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, and Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, signalled they could support a backbench bid to delay withdrawal to prevent a no-deal Brexit.Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader, and other senior Eurosceptics said they had breached collective responsibility.The prime minister, however, indicated that they will not be censured. She said: “I have recognised and others have recognised that there are strong views that are held on this issue. What we are collectively doing as a government and as a Cabinet is working to get that deal. “Parliament wants to see changes to the backstop. We have been working with the EU on that. Our focus is on leaving with a deal.”The Downing Street plans included three central options – a meaningful vote on the Prime Minister’s deal, a conditional vote on the Attorney General’s legal advice, and a commitment to request an extension of Article 50.After May announced a delay to the meaningful vote, two remain.Ministers believe a conditional vote on plans by Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, for a new legal text to ensure that the Irish backstop is strictly time limited could strengthen May’s hand in Brussels.She yesterday met Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, who is said to favour a lengthy extension to Article 50 of two years.The prime minister faced criticism for delaying the vote, with the CBI group of business leaders accusing her of “running down the clock”.While May did not rule out extending Brexit beyond March 29, she also said it would not “solve” anything, but “defers the point of decision”.