UK won't get another short delay to Brexit if its lawmakers fail to ratify the divorce deal by April 12, EU leader Jean-Claude Juncker warns, as PM Theresa May holds last-minute meeting with UK opposition to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

Theresa May tore up her steadfast strategy and sought Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's support in a surprise last-minute gesture that could determine the fate of the country and her government.
Theresa May tore up her steadfast strategy and sought Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's support in a surprise last-minute gesture that could determine the fate of the country and her government. (Reuters Archive)

Prime Minister Theresa May held "constructive" talks on Wednesday with Britain's opposition leader in a bid to forge a Brexit compromise that avoids a chaotic "no-deal" departure from the EU in nine days.

But there was no agreement on the option of a second referendum. 

May tore up her steadfast strategy and sought Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's support in a surprise last-minute gesture that could determine the fate of the country and her government.

Her divorce deal with the other 27 EU nations has been rejected three times by parliament and patience is wearing thin in Brussels as an April 12 deadline to end Britain's 46-year membership nears with no agreement in sight.

The premier said on Tuesday she would seek another "short" Brexit extension at an EU leaders' summit in Brussels on April 10.

She crucially added that she was now willing to bend her previous principles and listen to proposals for much closer post-Brexit trade relations with the bloc than most in her Conservative party were ready to accept.

Both sides described Wednesday's meeting as preliminary but constructive.

"Today’s talks were constructive, with both sides showing flexibility and a commitment to bring the current Brexit uncertainty to a close," a Downing Street spokesman said.

"We have agreed a programme of work to ensure we deliver for the British people, protecting jobs and security."

No agreement on second referendum 

A Labour spokesman said the two held "constructive exploratory discussions about how to break the Brexit deadlock".

Corbyn said there has been no agreement with May on the option of a second referendum.

"It was raised by me at the beginning of the meeting: I said this is a policy of my party that we would want to pursue the option of a public vote to prevent crashing out or prevent leaving on a bad deal," Corbyn said on Wednesday.

"There was no agreement reached on that. We just put it there.

EU says will stick to April 12 deadline

The European Union will not grant Britain another short delay to Brexit if UK lawmakers fail to ratify the stalled divorce agreement by April 12, the head of the bloc's European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said on Wednesday.

Juncker spoke after British Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Tuesday evening that she would request a second Brexit delay beyond the current cliff-edge date of April 12.

May is seeking to agree a deal with the main opposition Labour Party that would unlock ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement she negotiated with Brussels, which the British lower house of parliament has rejected three times.

"The best way forward is the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement," Juncker told the European Parliament. 

"The 12th of April is the ultimate deadline for approval of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons."

"If it has not done so by then, no further short extension will be possible."

"A 'no-deal' at midnight on the 12th of April is now a very likely scenario. It is not the outcome I want.

But it is an outcome for which I have made sure the EU is ready," he said.

But he said he will "do everything to avoid the United Kingdom's disorderly departure," saying that only populists and nationalists would celebrate a "no deal."

Junior Brexit minister resigns 

Meanwhile, Junior Brexit minister Chris Heaton-Harris became the second government member to resign on Wednesday after May said she would ask to delay Brexit again and find a compromise with Labour.

Heaton-Harris said in a letter to May that he would have wanted Britain to leave the European Union on the scheduled departure date of March 29, adding: "I simply cannot support any further extension."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies