On 12th March, the British government's draft Brexit deal was soundly defeated - by a margin of 149 votes - in the House of Commons, even after the prime minister, Theresa May, had won assurances from the EU that the Irish backstop was temporary. The Irish backstop, a stopgap measure which would keep Britain in the bloc's customs union to avoid hard border in Ireland, has been a major sticky point, and the "legally binding" changes agreed with the EU continued to carry "legal risk", as noted by Attorney general Geoffrey Cox. The defeat follows MPs' record-breaking 230-margin rejection of the agreement in January, which was the most massive parliamentary defeat of a British PM in the democratic era.
March 14, Thursday
In a motion supported by MPs by 412 votes to 202, the parliament voted in favour of approving an extension to Brexit by at least 3 months, after months of insisting that Britain’s departure will take place on schedule, with or without a deal. The EU leaders are open to extending the deadline, with Donald Tusk, the European Council president suggesting a long postponement that allows Britain to “rethink” its approach.
March 19, Tuesday
The prime minister is expected to give MPs a third vote on her twice-rejected plan through before a crucial EU summit on March 21-22. Mrs May has already warned that a lengthy delay to the Brexit process might be necessary if the deadline is extended, which might force Conservative Brexiters and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist party to rally round the agreement. May's calculation is that the hard-Brexiteers, faced with the choice of the deal at hand of or no Brexit at all, might finally agree with her arrangement.
The EU leaders will decide what kind of Article 50 extension to grant to the country, with calls for a lengthy extension growing by the day. Decisions at hand also include whether it should be a one-off and what the conditions should be. The purpose and usefulness of the extension are still unclear as the EU leaders’ question whether the delay would be for a fundamental rethink of Brexit or just kick the can down the road. The third vote on Brexit, scheduled to be held before the summit, will give crucial indications. Moreover, any extension beyond three months would be embarrassing for the UK as it would have to then participate in the EU parliament elections.
This has been considered the Brexit Day for the last two years, and Mrs May had emphatically emphasised on this. However, considering the turn of events, it looks like a distant dream, but there is still the possibility that the UK could leave the bloc on this date. Although highly unlikely, the EU could reject the UK's extension request.
If any deal would not be passed by then, the Brexit matters are expected to be decided by the House of Commons. Going forward, the government has promised to hold "indicative votes" to create a consensus and would be held after the EU summit. If the parliament approves an agreement, the government will table new legislation. However, before the deal can take effect, it will have to be passed by the European Parliament and EU member states in a ministerial meeting.
European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said that any delay after May 23 would necessitate UK's participation in the European Parliament elections; this has been reiterated by the British PM as well. Mrs May also said that this would be a big mistake and would amount to betrayal to the country. However, many official see July 2 as the crucial date and disagree with Mr Juncker that the cut-off date is May 23, forcing Mrs May to seek an extension until June 30. As the saga of Brexit continues, predictions have become futile. But, according to the current chain of events, June 30 may be the date when the UK finally leaves the EU, assuming the British parliament bang their heads together and form a consensus. However, the eventual date is far from certain, and, in fact, the probability of Brexit happening is in doubt now.
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