EU piles pressure on Theresa May by granting UK short Brexit delay

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Alex Macbeth - [email protected]
EU piles pressure on Theresa May by granting UK short Brexit delay
EU Commission President Juncker (L) and European Council President Tusk (R) speak during a press conference at the European Summit on March 21st 2019, in Brussels. Photo: Aris Oikonomou/AFP

After hours of uncertainty, divisions and deliberation, the European Council agreed to extend Brexit Day until May 22nd, but only if the deal is approved by the UK parliament. If not then the Theresa May has until April 12th to come up with a new plan or take the UK out of Europe without a deal.


There will be no Brexit for at least April 12th - just under three weeks. 

The EU unanimously agreed at the European Council summit in Brussels to approve a short extension to Article 50, albeit with distinct conditions.

Theresa May had requested an extension up until June 30th but EU leaders granted one until May 22nd if the framework for future cooperation, known as the Withdrawal Agreement or 'the deal', is approved by the House of Commons next week.

According to Reuters news agency Emmanuel Macron told fellow EU leaders that May only has a five percent chance of winning the vote next week, after hearing the prime minister's speech on Thursday.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council said Macron was being optimistic.

If British Prime Minister Theresa May cannot find consent for her deal among MPs, she will once again have to take her begging bowl to Brussels to seek a further extension and offer a clear plan to move forward by April 12th. 

"The European Council agrees to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week. If the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by the House of Commons next week, the European Council agrees to an extension until 12 April 2019 and expects the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council," reads a statement by the EU Council issued late on the night of Thursday March 21st.

Theresa May' now has to convince some of the 149 MPs who voted against her exit deal just 10 days ago to vote for the same deal. 

The brief respite means the UK will not crash out of the EU without a deal on March 29th as previously scheduled – although the specter of a no-deal scenario remains a distinct possibility given the UK parliament's inability to reach a compromise so far. 

"The European Council calls for work to be continued on preparedness and contingency at all levels for the consequences of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal, taking into account all possible outcomes," adds the EU Council's statement. 

The length of the extension was the subject of much discussion at the summit, with France and Belgium reportedly pushing for a May 7th Brexit Day, as supposed to May 22nd. The EU Council's decision to cut the period of extension requested by the UK government is designed to prevent the UK from having to hold EU parliamentary elections from May23rd to May 26th. 

French President Emmanuel Macron made it clear that this was the last spin of the dice, warning that a no-deal scenario was the only alternative to the Withdrawal Agreement. "We have to be clear on Brexit, to ourselves, to our British friends and to our people. The Withdrawal Agreement cannot be renegotiated. If the UK votes negatively, we'll head towards a no-deal," tweeted Macron. 

PM May will now attempt to get the same deal, which has been vehemently rejected so far by the UK lower house in two votes, approved by parliament next week. Rights activists representing the 1.2 million UK nationals in Europe and the 3.6 EU nationals in the UK are planning a March on Saturday in London. 

Meanwhile a petition to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit has reached nearly 2.5 million signatures in two days. 

READ ALSO: French president Macron warns of no-deal Brexit 'for sure' if British MPs reject May's deal


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