Brexit Officially Postponed

When in 2016 the United Kingdom’s citizens were invited to cast their votes in a referendum as to whether they want to stay or leave the European Union, the Brexiteers prevailed by a narrow margin. Since then the conservative government led by Theresa May has championed that her cabinet deliver on that promise, one way or another. She formally triggered Article 50, which set the deadline for Brexit to March 29, 2019. However, with one week until Brexit it is now official: the exit of the UK has been delayed.

After many months of stumbling and back-and-forth negotiations with the European Union, May’s cabinet finally delivered an exit agreement last November. However, for reasons that we have explained in the past, this agreement is quite unpopular with the British Parliament. May’s deal was formally rejected twice (with one tentative backing in-between, which simply served to confirm nobody else wants to take May’s job at the moment). Now the Prime Minister is holding Parliament hostage: they can either accept her deal, or face a possibly chaotic divorce from the EU.

Last week the UK Parliament voted in favor of asking for a delay. Respecting their wishes, Prime Minister May formally asked European leaders to grant the United Kingdom a few extra months to get the exit deal through Parliament. The PM requested an extension until June 30, which was denied on account of the upcoming European parliamentary elections. The elections are scheduled for May 23, so naturally keeping the United Kingdom officially in the bloc past that date would legally obligate them to also participate in the elections, a prolonged and costly process that the United Kingdom wants to avoid.

On Thursday night we learned that the details surrounding the Brexit postponement had been agreed. As of the publication of this article, the UK and the EU have agreed on two different deadlines. If Theresa May manages to get enough support for the deal she agreed on with the EU in November in a third vote next week, then the United Kingdom will have until May 22 to prepare for Brexit. However, if May’s deal is rejected a third time, the United Kingdom will get an even shorter deadline – until April 12, which is tied to a more uncertain future. The government might try to push for more votes on an already despised deal, or they could be even more unpredictable and resign, for example. Moreover, Donald Tusk stated that the UK can still change their mind by April 12 and decide to remain, or ask for a longer delay and take part in the elections.

It is unclear whether the Prime Minister will be able to find enough support for her deal in Parliament. Many of the proposals’ clauses are disliked by MPs, hence the repeated rejections. Before the most recent vote Theresa May managed to procure last-minute assurances against some of the problematic aspects of the proposal in hopes of calming the doubts of skeptical MPs. Nevertheless, that was not enough and the deal still failed. What more could the Prime Minister bring? Just two days ago Theresa May gave a very controversial speech in Parliament, which put the blame on MPs for dragging out Brexit (by implication by not supporting her deal). Analysts find it very unlikely that Members of Parliament will suddenly warm up to the deal now, after so many weeks of solid rejection.

Meanwhile, the UK public has expressed their current feelings on the matter in an online petition to cancel Brexit altogether. The petition is on the government’s website and requires citizen verification, but it is not considered binding, so it is not very likely to change the Prime Minister’s mind.