Stockholm (Ekonamik) – Brexit has been delayed until at least April 12 following UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s forced 11th hour acceptance of European Union proposals to extend Article 50 for three weeks. The decision was made in Brussels in the late hours of March 21, due to concerns that Mrs May would be unable to deliver her Brexit deal at all.
Mrs May had asked the EU for an extension of Article 50, following the refusal of House of Commons speaker John Bercow on Monday to hold another vote on her Brexit plan, unless it received substantial modification. Nine days before the UK was scheduled to leave the European Union, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, received a letter from Mrs May requesting an extension until June 30.
Any extension required a unanimous vote from the other EU member states. This was by no means certain, as exasperated heads of state in European capitals clamoured for a definition of what exactly an exit would mean at this stage. . As it stood, the EU rejected Mrs May’s plans, but provided a three week extension pending Mrs May’s ability to put her deal through parliament. A main sticking point remains the EU’s parliamentary elections in May.
The absurdity of the UK voting in these elections as it seeks to exit the EU has now become another red line in the ongoing drama. Having failed to convince the EU bloc that she can get her deal through, Mrs May is now compelled to bring a resolution within the next three weeks. If she cannot secure her deal, the UK will crash out of the EU by April 12. If she can, she has been granted an extension until May 22 – before the European elections.
But Mrs May has rejected the notion of participating in these, even if doing so would provide the opportunity of a longer extension. Meanwhile, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn also travelled to Brussels to discuss an alternate plan with EU leaders. Mr Corbyn is proposing a plan he himself tried to put through the UK parliament, but still believes can be achieved. The plan seeks to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU and keep it within the single market.
Mrs May’s plan establishes a “mechanism” to calculate the financial settlement between the EU and the UK. She is trying to avoid crashing out of the EU without a deal at all, but, beset by issues like the Irish backstop, her deal appears increasingly unpalatable to voters, EU leaders and – especially – extreme members of her own party. The arrangement with the EU essentially requires her to pass her deal within the next week.
Mrs May may be betting that her own unruly coalition could help her bring the UK back from the brink of crashing out without any deal for the country whatsoever. Certainly, hard Brexiteers will find it hard to stomach the prospect of a potentially indefinite wait to exit and may still be convinced to back a deal against their liking. But Mrs May also has domestic politics to contend with; a number of Brexiteers are vying for her job.
The European Union has provided the leeway it can. Mrs May remains stuck between a rock and a hard place, but her parliamentary members owe her, the UK, and the EU, a resolution.