With negotiations deadlocked in Brussels and the clock running down, the PM told the Commons it will get a chance to extend Article 50.
The climbdown comes as Mrs May scrambles to avert mass resignations by ministers who are determined to rule out no deal in crunch votes tomorrow.
‘The UK will only leave without a deal on 29th March if there is explicit consent for that outcome,’ she said.
But the concession will cause fury among Eurosceptics who have been adamant the option of leaving without an agreement must be kept on the table.
Ministers are thought to have had heated exchanges during the session in Downing Street this morning, but there are no signs of resignations as yet.
Mrs May again drew a blank after a frantic round of Brexit talks with EU counterparts at a summit in Egypt over the past two days.
EU council chief Donald Tusk heaped pressure on the PM by urging her to take the ‘rational solution’ of an extension. One proposal favoured in Brussels is a 21-month delay, which would essentially replace the transition period.
However, the PM’s aides have suggested she is only likely to hold out the prospect of a shorter two-month postponement.
A group of 23 dissidents met secretly at the Commons last night to discuss how to stop Britain leaving the EU without an agreement on March 29
Leading Remainers Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd (left) and Business Secretary Greg Clark (right) were at Cabinet this morning
Brexiteer Penny Mordaunt was also at the gathering in Downing Street this morning
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom (left) is likely to resist any effort to delay the Brexit date. Education Secretary Damian Hinds (right) is a May loyalist
A group of 23 dissidents met secretly at the Commons last night to discuss how to stop Britain leaving the EU without an agreement on March 29, with as many as 15 said to be ready to resign.
In an article for the Mail today, three of the ministers involved say they are prepared to back a Commons move by rebel MPs tomorrow to force the Prime Minister to seek a Brexit delay if her deal is voted down.
What will happen next in the unfolding Brexit drama?
Downing Street is trying to head off a potential Tory Remainer mutiny by promising MPs will get another set of votes within weeks, with the potential for Article 50 to be extended.
Theresa May has said a so-called ‘meaningful vote’ on her revised Brexit deal will take place by this date.
If it is defeated Mrs May will call a vote on whether to go ahead with no deal, or delay Brexit.
The PM will attend a scheduled EU summit in Brussels that would effectively be the last opportunity to get agreement.
Some MPs fear that Mrs May is trying to delay for as long as possible, and might even try to hold a make-or-break vote in the Commons on March 26. That would be just 72 hours before Brexit, giving them a very stark deal-or-no-deal choice.
11pm, March 29
The UK is due to leave the EU with or without a deal, unless the Article 50 process is extended with approval from the bloc’s leaders, or revoked to cancel Brexit altogether.
Industry minister Richard Harrington, digital minister Margot James and energy minister Claire Perry ‘implore’ Mrs May to say that if there is no deal agreed by Parliament by March 13 then she must seek a way to extend Article 50.
If she fails to do so they warn bluntly they ‘will have no choice other than to join MPs of all parties and fellow ministers in acting in the national interest to prevent a disaster in less than five weeks that we may regret forever’.
The manoeuvring came as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was accused of ‘cynical betrayal’ after performing a U-turn and backing a second referendum – breaking a manifesto vow by his party.
The Cabinet discussed proposals this morning that could see the UK request a short extension of Article 50 of around two months if the PM’s deal is voted down by MPs again, for a second time, on March 12.
Mrs May is expected to float the idea in a statement to Parliament as early as this afternoon.
There could be two votes on March 12 – one on whether to proceed with no deal, and another on whether to extend Article 50.
The idea is a desperate bid to stave off the mass rebellion by ministers and avert a looming Commons defeat tomorrow over the motion put forward by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory Sir Oliver Letwin that would empower Parliament to force a Brexit delay on the Government.
Justice Secretary David Gauke (pictured right today) is thought to be ready to resign if the government does not rule out no deal. Liz Truss (left) is one of the Brexiteers in the Cabinet
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured at his London home today) has upped pressure on Mrs May by lining up behind a second referendum
As many as 15 ministers could resign and vote for the motion unless Mrs May provides assurances on No Deal today, including anti-Brexit Cabinet ministers Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark.
Other Tories believed to be on the brink of resigning to stop No Deal include Scottish Secretary David Mundell, Defence minister Tobias Ellwood, Solicitor General Robert Buckland and Disabilities minister Sarah Newton. All are thought to have attended yesterday’s Commons meeting.
Up to 25 Tory backbenchers are also threatening to back tomorrow’s revolt. It means around 40 Tory rebels could vote against the Government which, with Opposition support, is more than enough to defeat Mrs May.
Industry minister Richard Harrington (left), digital minister Margot James (right) and energy minister Claire Perry ‘implore’ Mrs May to say that if there is no deal agreed by Parliament by March 13 then she must seek a way to extend Article 50
Other Tories believed to be on the brink of resigning to stop No Deal include Defence minister Tobias Ellwood, left. Energy minister Claire Perry, right, ‘implores’ Mrs May to say that if there is no deal agreed by Parliament by March 13 then she must seek a way to extend Article 50
At the weekend, Miss Rudd, Mr Clark and Mr Gauke made clear in the Mail that they opposed a No Deal departure and Brexit must be delayed unless there was a breakthrough on Mrs May’s deal this week.
Tomorrow’s vote would empower Parliament to force a Brexit delay on the Government if Mrs May has failed to get a deal passed by March 13.
The Prime Minister remains unconvinced that a delay to Brexit will help the process, warning yesterday that an extension of Article 50 ‘doesn’t deliver a decision in Parliament and it doesn’t deliver a deal.’
Speaking at an EU summit in Egypt where she held emergency Brexit talks with fellow leaders, Mrs May said progress was being made and a deal to take the UK out on March 29 remained ‘within our grasp’.
But she refused to explicitly rule out a Brexit delay. One ally of the PM said: ‘It’s either accept the possibility of a delay or face a potentially heavy defeat in parliament and have it forced on you anyway.
‘It isn’t taking No Deal off the table – you still have to get a deal to do that.’
Another senior Tory said: ‘If 20 ministers have to resign to force this through then they will, but it would have a catastrophic impact on the Government.’
One leading Remainer last night said: ‘I don’t want to resign but if I don’t get the assurances I need from the PM then I will. The Government is not ready to leave without a deal next month – it would be irresponsible.
‘There are enough of us who feel that way to get the Cooper amendment through and everyone knows that.’
We can’t simply have No Deal, Theresa – a new devastating intervention by ministers Richard Harrington, Claire Perry and Margot James
Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire Perry
Now that we know that there will be no parliamentary vote on a deal for Britain to exit the European Union until March 12 three things are clear.
First, if an agreement is not reached and endorsed by then, Britain would crash out on the most basic and disruptive terms on March 29.
Second, even if an agreement were to be reached by March 12, it would be too late to have it ratified by the European Council of Ministers, the UK Parliament and the European Parliament before Brexit day, just over a fortnight later.
Third, British businesses have been plunged into depths of uncertainty and dismay that is ruinous for the interests of the millions of working men and women whose livelihoods depend on the confidence of their employers.
The British Chambers of Commerce, representing small firms in every part of the UK said it is “unbelievable” that there is just “17 days’ notice for businesses, employees, investors and communities on what may be the biggest economic and trading change they face in a generation”.
We can’t go on like this. All three facts point to the same conclusion: we must act immediately to ensure that we are not swept over the precipice on March 29.
The way to do that is to seek a short extension to Article 50 to allow the negotiations to be completed, the legislation to pass and for the panic that businesses face to subside.
It would not take No Deal off the table – only an agreed deal can do that. It would not affect the conduct of the negotiation – both sides are fully aware of the impossibility of ratifying a deal done after this week without an extension to Article 50.
But what it would do is to help save the jobs of thousands of people whose employers risk taking flight rather than putting up any longer with the enforced ignorance they have of how to trade with their most important suppliers and customers.
The best way to do this is for the Government to take a cool-headed, sensible step.
It should say that if there is no deal agreed, it will seek a way to extend Article 50 to avoid leaving with No Deal on March 29. It is a commitment that would be greeted with relief by the vast majority of MPs, businesses and their employees.
We implore the Government to take that step this week.
But if the Prime Minister is not able to make this commitment, we will have no choice other than to join MPs of all parties in the House of Commons, including fellow ministers, in acting in the national interest to prevent a disaster in less than five weeks’ time that we may regret forever.