EU agrees short delay to Brexit

The UK Government still have a choice of a deal, no-deal, a long extension or revoking Article 50

Jean-Claude Juncker (L) and Donald Tusk (R) are holding news conference after the first day of the EU summit, on 21 March in Brussels.

On 21 March, the first day of the Spring European Council in Brussels, after long hours of discussions about the configuration of the Brexit postponement scheme, the EU27 agreed to propose two scenarios to the UK. As the official Brexit Day is just around the corner and the uncertainties surrounding the divorce became more and more entangled, a day before the sitting, British Prime Minister Theresa May sent a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk in which she requested two things. 

She proposed the European Council to approve the so-called “Strasbourg agreement” between the UK and the Commission, and a “short extension” of the Article 50 period - with three months, until 30 June this year.

All in all, six are the points in the conclusions that the leaders of EU27 adopted on the upcoming separation. In response to the request of PM May they agreed to an extension until 22 May, provided the withdrawal agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week. If the British MPs do not approve it in the next seven days, the EU leaders agreed to an extension until 12 April and expect the UK to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council. EU leaders approved the “Strasbourg agreement” and called for continuation of no-deal preparations. There can be no opening of the withdrawal agreement that was agreed last November.

At a news conference after the long discussion, President Tusk explained that the leaders of EU27 approached the requests of PM May “in a positive spirit”. As he underlined, UK's government will still have a choice of a deal, no-deal, a long extension or revoking Article 50. He also specified that 12 April is a key date in terms of the UK deciding whether to hold European Parliament elections. If it has not decided to do so by then, the option of a long extension will automatically become impossible, Tusk expounded.

Any extension should be decided unanimously by the EU27, in agreement with the Member State concerned, as the treaties foresee. “This is why I met Prime Minister May several times tonight to make sure that the UK accepts the extension scenarios and I am pleased to confirm that we have reached an agreement on this,” he emphasised.

On his side, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed hope that the agreement will be backed by the House of Commons. But whatever happens, “the EU is ready for every eventuality, including so-called no-deal,” he asserted. According to him, the EU had been doing everything over the past year to get the deal over the finishing line. “We've done everything we could. We were asked for clarifications in December - we gave them. We were asked for assurances in January - we gave them. I was asked for further reassurances, last Monday in Strasbourg - I gave them. Today's legally binding clarifications and assurances endorsed by EU27, that PM May and I agreed in Strasbourg, closes and completes the full package. There is no more we can give,” he stated.

Speaking after the first day sessions, PM May said she welcomes the Council's approval of the legally-binding assurances in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop, which she negotiated with President Juncker last week. This should give extra assurance to Parliament that, in the unlikely event the backstop is ever used, it will only be temporary.

However, she expressed concerns that if Parliament does not agree a deal next week, the European Council will extend Article 50 until 12 April. At this point we would either leave with no deal, or put forward an alternative plan, she pointed out, specifying that if this involved a further extension, it would mean participation in the European Parliamentary elections. May reiterated that she strongly believes it would be wrong to ask people in the UK to participate in these elections three years after voting to leave the EU. I will make every effort to ensure that we are able to leave with a deal and move our country forward, the British PM stressed.

EP President Antonio Tajani, who delivered a news conference at the Council earlier the same day, stated that the European Parliament is ready for a political battle to ensure that the rights of 3.5 million European citizens living in the UK and of the British citizens on the continent are protected. He said the Parliament continues to believe that the negotiated agreement remains the only solution available to ensure an orderly exit and limit the damage to citizens and businesses. Tajani urged that it is now up to the British “to find a way out”.

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