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UK to seek three-month delay to Brexit

Any extension would have to be agreed by a unanimous vote of the 27 EU heads of government next week

The United Kingdom is to ask the EU to delay its exit from the Union until at least June 30 – or significantly longer if a Withdrawal Agreement is not finally approved by the UK Parliament by the middle of next week.

Following another day of drama in the UK Parliament, MPs have finally acknowledged that the UK will not be ready to leave the EU on Friday March 29, as scheduled.

But any extension to the ‘Article 50’ Brexit process would have to be agreed by a unanimous vote of the 27 EU heads of government who are meeting in Brussels next Thursday and Friday (March 21-22). Failure by the EU27 to agree to the UK’s extension request would propel the UK out of the EU on March 29, even in the absence of an agreed deal.

The motion to seek an extension to Article 50, proposed by prime minister Theresa May, was ultimately approved by a clear majority in the House of Commons – by 412 votes to 202.

Third attempt to approve Withdrawal Agreement

May has said that she will put the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU in November back on the table for a third time next Tuesday (March 19) – in essence, the same deal that has been defeated twice, by heavy margins, in Parliamentary votes in January and again earlier this week.

If this deal is approved at the third attempt, EU leaders will be asked to approve an extension of the Article 50 process until June 30, in order to give the UK time to get the necessary Brexit enabling legislation adopted.

The end of June is being seen as the latest date at which the UK could leave the EU without holding elections for the new European Parliament, which convenes for its first session in early July.

However, May has also said that, in the event that the deal is voted down again, the government would have to ask the EU for a significantly longer extension, and that the UK would have to participate in the European Parliament elections in late May. Such a delay would increase the probability of a change in the UK’s approach to Brexit.

Clarity over the length and purpose of any extension of Article 50 has been cited by European Council President Donald Tusk as a precondition for acceptance of any request for a delay.

In the meantime, the UK has published the schedule of tariffs that it will apply on imports if failure to secure either a deal or an extension means that the UK ‘crashes out’ of the EU on March 29. Even if an Article 50 extension is agreed, the tariff could yet come into effect in the event that no deal was secured by the end of the extension period.


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