Brexit: A deferred divorce

At the end of last week Prime Minister Theresa May was clear: there will be no delay of Brexit and so the withdrawal of the European Union (EU) remains on 29 March 2019. She stated that extending Article 50 does not solve the problem, but rather just defers the decision.

Two days after stressing that she does not want to delay Brexit, it is said that May is considering a plan to delay Brexit and stop the UK from leaving the EU with no deal next month. However, May is still committed to try to achieve a deal done on time. But if no agreement is reached on the 12th March, a delay of some kind would be needed. An amendment of Labour MP Yvette Cooper must guarantee this. Her amendment, passed in the House of Commons on 27th February, implies that MPs will be allowed to vote on a possible postponement of Brexit if there is no approved agreement with the EU by 12th March.

The idea of delaying Brexit was also on the table when Theresa May met with EU leaders in Egypt on a EU-Arab League Summit on 26 February. European Council President Donald Tusk said that delaying the withdrawal date of 29 March would be the ‘rational’ thing to do. “I believe that in the situation we are in, an extension would be a rational decision, but Prime Minister May still believes she will be able to avoid this scenario.” EU senior officials are even exploring the idea of extending Article 50 by 21 months to give both sides time to develop plans for the future relationship.

On the side of the opposition, Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed on 25th February, under pressure of his MPs, to support a second Brexit referendum. However, in the beginning of the week he still seemed to carry on promoting his own Brexit plan where the UK remains a member of the customs union of the European Union. But Corbyn’s Brexit plan got defeated in a vote on 27 February, leading the Corbyn to announce his and the Labour party’s support for another EU referendum. Corbyn’s agreement came also in light of recent polls, as revealed by The Times, reporting that support for The Independent Group, who backs a second referendum, has surged, with a new YouGov poll putting it on 18 percent, just 5 points behind Labour on 23.

So, the new date to watch out for will be 12 March when the House of Commons will vote for a second ‘meaningful vote’ on Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. Talks are still ongoing in Brussels between the EU and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox to find new assurances concerning the Irish backstop. However, if the renewed deal does not pass, May will bring a motion forward asking MPs whether they support leaving the EU without a deal. This motion is not expected to pass, so May will ask for support for a time-limited extension of the withdrawal of the European Union on the 14th March.

The game is still very much on.