EU member states are pushing the Brexit deadline to April 12 without any conditions, a much shorter time period than the June 30 date UK Prime Minister Theresa May initially requested.
The extra three weeks will give May a third chance to get her Brexit deal through the UK Parliament. If Parliament approves the agreement, the EU will extend the Brexit deadline even further — to May 22 — to give the UK time to pass the necessary domestic legislation. (The EU Parliament must also ratify the deal, though that’s expected to be mostly a formality.)
But if Parliament rejects May’s deal for a third time, then the UK will either leave without a deal on April 12 or have to propose an alternative approach before that April 12 date.
If the UK somehow comes up with a brand new plan, the EU says it will entertain a longer extension but will require the UK to participate in European parliamentary elections, which start May 23. And that new strategy will have to be more along the lines of a second referendum or softer Brexit, not a fourth vote on the deal.
The EU’s decision to postpone Brexit — just eight days before the March 29 deadline — came after hours of deliberations at the European Council Summit in Brussels that extended well into the night. Some EU leaders, including France’s Emmanuel Macron, made clear their utter exasperation with the political paralysis in the UK and their desire for the EU to take a tougher stance toward May’s request.
But EU leaders ultimately reached this compromise. They arrived at the April 12 date because that’s the week the UK will need to tell the EU whether it will put up candidates for the European parliamentary elections. If the UK doesn’t want to do that — and there probably isn’t a majority in the UK Parliament that would support it — then the UK has to get out of the EU, whether or not it has an agreement in place.
The new deadline averts the impending disaster of a no-deal Brexit, but it doesn’t eliminate it. Some political observers think it might make it even more likely — given the long-shot prospects of May’s Brexit deal passing and Parliament’s inability to find a majority for anything else.
So the EU granted the UK a temporary reprieve, but its message was pretty clear: pass the only deal on offer or prepare to break up with the EU empty-handed.
Prime Minister May gave a short statement after agreeing to the EU’s Brexit deadline extension, a day after infuriating members of Parliament by blaming them for the Brexit impasse.
May tried to strike a more apologetic tone in her Thursday speech, saying that “last night she had expressed her frustration” and that she knows “MPs are frustrated too.”
“I hope we can all agree we are now at the moment of decision,” May said in Brussels, “and I will make every effort to make sure we can leave with a deal and move our country forward.”
But her talking points were basically the same as they’ve always been: Pass my deal now or exit the EU without a deal.
A petition for the UK government to revoke Article 50 — which would effectively cancel Brexit — has now garnered 3 million votes in the country. But when asked by reporters if she would consider taking that step to avoid a catastrophic crash-out if her Brexit deal failed a third time, May insisted she would not. “We will be leaving the European Union,” she said.
The Brexit drama will now shift back to Westminster, where May is expected to try to put her Brexit deal to a third vote. Parliament rejected her Brexit plan by 230 votes in January and by 150 votes last week. That’s a massive margin to make up, and it’s still looking very likely that Parliament will defeat the proposal once again.
Members of Parliament will also likely try to seize control and push forward different Brexit plans — a softer Brexit, a second referendum, or any number of other ideas. But whether any alternative plan can get the support of a majority of MPs and break the Brexit logjam is the perennial question in British politics. And the answer, so far, has been a resounding no.
So the UK won’t be leaving the EU on March 29 without a deal. But April 12 is now the hard Brexit deadline. The UK has three weeks to agree to a plan or brace itself for the no-deal fallout.