EU grants Brexit delay: Here’s what happens next
March 22, 2019
The tumultuous no-deal Brexit crisis has been resolved. Well, at least temporarily.
After hours of negotiations that stretched late into the night on March 21, the EU decided to reject UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposal for a Brexit delay until June 30, and instead offered its own two-part timeline.
The EU said it would extend the deadline until May 22 with one catch: UK MPs must approve May’s twice-rejected withdrawal agreement next week.
The date of May 22 is significant because it’s the day before the start of elections for the European Parliament. Since the UK does not want to participate in the elections, the EU has stated that it must be out of the bloc before they begin.
If May’s plan is again rejected – and many think there is a good chance that will happen – then the UK will get an unconditional extension until April 12 to bring forward new proposals.
“What this means in practice is that until that date, all options will remain open and the cliff-edge will be delayed,” European Council President Donald Tusk said following the negotiations. “The UK government is to have a choice of a deal, her deal, a long extension or revoking Article 50.”
However, May has repeatedly expressed that she does not believe Article 50, which is the legal process for how the UK will leave the EU, should be revoked. And many have speculated that if her deal fails the third time, she will opt for a no-deal Brexit.
“We gave the choice as to whether to stay in the EU or leave to the EU to the British people,” May said. “They voted in 2016, they voted to leave … I think the time is now to deliver for the British people.”
Fears of no-deal
The temporary reprieve to the no-deal Brexit turmoil is unlikely to ease the concerns over the repercussions of a disorderly exit that have intensified across the UK and EU.
The UK’s Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry have joined together to release a letter urging the UK government to prevent a no-deal.
“Our country is facing a national emergency. Decisions of recent days have caused the risk of no deal to soar. Firms and communities across the UK are not ready for this outcome. The shock to our economy would be felt by generations to come,” write the heads of the two organizations, Frances O’Grady and Carolyn Fairbairn.
In a letter to the European Commission, BusinessEurope, an umbrella organization representing European companies of all sizes and sectors, expressed concern that the “EU contingency actions and measures fall short of what is needed to limit major disruptions.”
“The European business community is getting increasingly concerned by the potential disruptions for citizens and businesses of a no-deal scenario. Although companies have been preparing for the possibility of no-deal, many uncertainties remain,” reads the letter from Luisa Santos, chair of BusinessEurope’s Brexit task force.
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Business groups aren’t the only ones voicing their frustration.
More than two million people have signed an online petition urging the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 and prevent Brexit, with the majority of the signatures coming in the 24 hours following May’s televised address on March 20. With nearly 2,000 signatures added every minute, the traffic caused the official petitions site to crash repeatedly.
And it appears that there are fears the public could act on their frustration over Brexit. The same day the EU approved an extension to Brexit, UK MPs were advised to take taxis home and not travel alone in the coming days over concerns they might be attacked due to the handling of Brexit.
“Personally, I have never felt this level of tension during my time in the House and I am aware that other colleagues feel the same,” Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle wrote in an email to lawmakers.
Several MPs have condemned May for trying to turn the public’s anger towards them. In her televised address on March 20, May blamed lawmakers for the Brexit turmoil. MPs have since criticized May for fueling the public’s concerns and anger over Brexit.
“I apprehended the prime minister last Thursday evening and I begged her ‘dial down the hate prime minister.’ People are frightened … and the prime minister must show some leadership,” said Labour MP Paula Sherriff.
The rising tensions have many lawmakers thinking of Jo Cox, a member of the Labour Party who was killed just days before the 2016 referendum. Cox died as a result of injuries she received from a street attack, during which witnesses say the attacker yelled ‘Put Britain first.’
What happens now
The next week will be monumental for Brexit.
MPs are set to vote early next week, most likely March 26 or 27, on the Brexit deal for the third time. May needs to convince at least 75 MPs to back her deal. But winning over lawmakers will prove quite a feat for the prime minister, who has undoubtedly lost support after her televised statement.
If May’s plan is again voted down, then the UK will have until April 12 to decide if it will take part in the European Parliament elections, which would open up the possibility for a longer Brexit extension of several months. If the UK doesn’t participate in the elections, it will leave the EU on April 12.
An emergency EU summit could also be held next week if the UK Parliament does not pass the deal. However, the EU has insisted that it will not renegotiate the terms of the agreement.
“This has been a long haul but we’ve got to look forward now,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker after the negotiations to extend the deadline. “The clock is ticking, not only for Brexit but for other things too.”