At a summit in Brussels on Thursday, the EU leaders have postponed the Brexit cliff-edge back until April 12. This provides the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, a tight window to secure MPs' backing for her deal, and hence, decide whether to leave without an agreement or request a much longer extension. This decision gives a much-needed relief to the PM and removes the possibility of a no-deal Brexit within a week.
The decision was announced by Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council after 27 EU leaders unanimously agreed to extend the deadline after the British Prime Minister's request. The EU leaders, to everyone's surprise, gave her two options. First, she was offered a short delay until May 22 to get her deal ratified by the House of Commons by next week. However, the option two kicks if the parliament does not clear the bill by April 12. At this point, the UK will have to seek a longer delay and take part in the European parliamentary elections in May, or not seek Brexit at all.
Theresa May said that the decision by the EU shows how imperative it is for the parliament to pass the Brexit by the next week so that months of uncertainty can be put to an end. She had earlier reprimanded the MPs failing to support her EU divorce deal but seemed to take a softer line by Thursday. She, however, did not rule out seeking a longer Brexit extension if the parliament does not endorse her deal. She also did not dismiss the possibility of the UK taking part in the European Parliamentary elections but said: "it would be wrong". This gives Mrs May a powerful tool to intimidate hard-Brexiteers into supporting her deal. However, she also added that a no-deal Brexit was "still on the table".
If the parliament approves Mrs May's withdrawal agreement next week, according to the EU's communiqué, the date of Brexit would be shifted from March 29 to May 22. The April 12 will be very important as it will be last day that the UK can decide to take part in European parliamentary elections. Donald Tusk said that the agreed arrangement keeps various scenarios alive – a choice "between a long extension, a deal, no deal, or revoking Article 50" altogether.
However, many EU leaders are unconvinced that May would be able to win the backing of the parliament, at least within a week. According to Emmanuel Macron, France's president, who led the hardline group of EU leaders arguing against a long deadline, the ball is in Mrs May's court now. He also warned that the UK was heading towards a "no-deal" exit unless the deal is passed in the parliament.
The PM already has a slim chance of getting her deal rectified in the third "meaningful vote". The MPs are expected to take the reins of the whole process and begin the process of holding indicative votes. Time is an asset which Mrs May does not have; April 12th is just three weeks away. Moreover, there is still no assurance that John Bercow, House of Commons Speaker, would allow a third vote until major rectifications are made in the deal. The Brexit drama still looks far from over.
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