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European Council grants conditional Article 50 extension

Council conclusions also offer April 12 extension if deal fails

The European Council today (March 21) agreed to extend the deadline for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union to May 22, which is the day before the start of European Parliament elections, on the condition that the Withdrawal Agreement is passed by the UK Parliament next week.

However, if the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by UK MPs next week, the Council has also said it will grant an extension until 12 April, 2019 "and expects the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration."

“The European Council commits to agreeing, before 29 March 2019, to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week,” the European Council conclusions state.

“Given that the United Kingdom does not intend to hold elections to the European Parliament, no extension beyond that date is possible.”

The Council also reiterated that the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations would not be reopened, but the UK can add unilateral elements to the deal. “Any unilateral commitment, statement or other act should be compatible with the letter and spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement,” it said.

In a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk sent yesterday (March 20), UK prime minister Theresa May had requested an extension to June 30 to provide enough time to reach a House of Commons consensus to get the Withdrawal Agreement passed by MPs.

But within the letter she also stated that “I do not believe that it would be in either of our interests for the UK to hold European Parliament elections”, which appears to have guided the Council’s decision to only agree an extension to May 22. The Council conclusions also call for "work on preparedness and contingency to be continued, taking into account all possible outcomes." 

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