The British Government has tabled an order enabling elections to the European Parliament to be held in Britain if the country has not left the EU by the time they take place next month.
The Day of Poll Order sets the date for the elections on May 23, but the Cabinet Office said they would automatically be cancelled if the UK left before then.
The announcement comes as Theresa May prepares for talks on Tuesday with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin and President Emmanuel Macron in Paris ahead of another crucial EU summit in Brussels the following day.
The British Prime Minister has acknowledged that if the EU is to grant an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process beyond Friday – the final day for calling the elections in the UK – the Government would have be prepared for the UK to take part in them.
However, a Cabinet Office spokesman said it was still the Government’s aim to leave with a deal before that became necessary.
“It remains the Government’s intention to leave the EU with a deal and pass the necessary legislation before May 22, so that we do not need to participate in European parliamentary elections,” the spokesman said.
“As a responsible Government today we have taken the necessary steps required by law should we have to participate.
“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.”