British prime minister Theresa May is dead set on the UK leaving the European Union in March 2019 because she fears the European parliament elections — due to be held later that same year — could potentially sabotage the Brexit process.

That’s the opinion of Conservative Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Charles Tannock, who told Verdict that friends of his close to May have confirmed this.

Tannock said:

My source told me that the European election was a red line; having a European election just before the country is due to leave the EU was out of the question.

According to Tannock the UK government opted for a “compressed time frame” to ensure the country was out of the EU before the European parliament elections, due to take place in either May 2019 or June 2019.

If the election results in an increase in pro-Europe MEPs while the UK is still part of the bloc it could put further strain on May’s leadership, Tannock said.

“The European parliament election could be construed as a second referendum or effectively a general election equivalent based around the European issue,” he told Verdict.

Meanwhile, May has has vowed to put the exact Brexit date and time in law — 11pm on Friday 29 March 2019 — following suspicion from backbench Tory rebels that the Withdrawal Bill would allow ministers to retain so-called Henry VIII powers for longer than two years after Brexit.

Writing in the Telegraph newspaper, May said:

Let no-one doubt our determination or question our resolve, Brexit is happening. It will be there in black and white on the front page of this historic piece of legislation.

According to an internal strategy note obtained by Politico earlier this week, European parliament secretary-general Klaus Welle already has plans to dissuade people from voting for eurosceptic parties.

Welle said:

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The European Parliament should take a clear and unambiguous stance in favor of the European Union.

As well as stalling the UK government’s Brexit process, the European parliament election could give Ukip a platform to undermine May, Tannock added:

The [European parliament] election could prove to be a potential revival for Ukip if they felt that May was failing to deliver the hard Brexit agenda.

May did not wait until there was cabinet agreement on the UK’s negotiating stance to invoke Article 50, the official EU exit clause, six months ago.

Former diplomat Lord Kerr, who was responsible for drafting the EU exit clause Article 50, told the pro-EU campaign group Open Britain this morning:

I don’t know why May was in such a rush to send her [Article 50] letter in March, before her cabinet had an agreed plan. It was odd to start the clock and not start negotiating, instead calling an election.

Verdict has contacted the department for exiting the EU for comment.