European Union leaders and the British government have agreed to a flexible extension of the Brexit deadline that would allow the country to delay its EU departure date until Halloween, i.e. October 31. On Thursday, the leaders of the 27 remaining member countries met over dinner for more than six hours before agreeing to postpone Brexit, thus averting the prospect of the UK having to leave the EU without a deal on Friday. Prime Minister Theresa May had sought a shorter delay to June 30 to avoid the UK crashing out, but the European leaders were unconvinced by her assurances that the parliament would resolve the issue by the end of June.Â [optin-monster-shortcode id="wxhmli4jjedneglg1trq"]
Although the EU has forced Theresa May to accept a six-month extension to sort out the out-of-hand Brexit process, an option was given to leave earlier if the British Parliament could reach a consensus over the deal. President of the European Council, Donald Tusk confirmed that the British government had accepted the deal but had a harsh word of caution for British MPs who have been a standstill for months: "Please do not waste this time." He had originally proposed an extension of up to a year but termed the six-month extension as enough to find the best possible solution with the flexibility he had expected. The country was initially supposed to leave on March 29, which was later postponed to April 12.
The leaders were divided over terms and length of the extension, and the deal was only reached after six hours of intense bargaining. German chancellor, Angela Merkel urged for a long delay and the French President, Emmanuel Macron insisted for a shorter Brexit extension. Mr Macron wants to undertake his own project of reforming the EU, and his patience has worn thin over the whole issue. It has been reported that he had to be persuaded to accept the October deadline as he had doubts about the efficacy of granting Britain a delay beyond the end of June. On the insistence of Macron, in a review process at the end of June, the country will be evaluated on its promises to be a constructive partner in EU business.
The UK will now most probably take part in the European Parliament elections in late May, which European Commission President Jean-Claude termed as a bit "odd". Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said that the country would have to leave the bloc on June 1 without a deal if it does take part in the elections. Though the probability of deal passing before the elections is slim, Theresa May suggested that there are still chances that she might get her Withdrawal Agreement passed through Parliament.
The long delay has cast doubts amongst EU leaders about May's ability to win cross-party support for her deal, which has already been rejected three times. Hard-Brexiteers within her party are also incensed, who regard the delay as another attempt towards a softer Brexit, or a signal that the country might not leave the bloc, after all. Hardline Brexiteers have warned that if this happens, the British members of the European Parliament would create impediments in the functioning of the parliament, like the budget. However, assurances, which were aimed at satisfying Macron, seem to have provided for this.
Till now, cross-party talks between the UK's Labour and Conservative parties have not materialised into an agreement, with the issue of the UK being part of customs union after Brexit remaining a sticky point. The parliament is also divided over whether to seek a second referendum. May has said that her government would reach out to the opposition in coming days. However, there were already rumblings on Thursday night that the prolonged extension could spell an end to her leadership and, so, it remains to be seen whether May will last long enough to see her deal through in any shape or form.