London: The UK has secured a short delay to the March 29 Brexit deadline after the European Union (EU) leaders reluctantly agreed to offer embattled Prime Minister Theresa May time until May 22 to get the divorce deal through another House of Commons vote next week.
If the agreement, already defeated twice over the controversial Irish backstop clause, fails to clear the UK Parliament for a third time, the EU has set April 12 as the deadline for Britain to make up its mind on the next move.
While the EU’s latest offer reduces the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit by the March 29 deadline, the UK could still leave without a deal if Prime Minister May fails to get the backing for her deal from MPs by April 12.
“The UK government will still have a choice of a deal, no-deal, a long extension or revoking Article 50,” said Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, soon after EU leaders agreed to May’s plea for a short extension to the Brexit deadline at an ongoing council meeting in Brussels.
“April 12 is a key date in terms of the UK wondering whether to hold European Parliament elections. If it has not decided to do so by then the option of a long extension will immediately become impossible,” said Tusk, on behalf of all EU member-countries.
If May’s deal fails to clear the Parliament hurdle yet again next week, the UK would be expected to table its no-deal plans for crashing out of the 28-member economic bloc by April 12 or accept a longer extension to the Article 50 mechanism and contest the European Parliament elections scheduled for May 23.
“I hope that we can all agree we are now at the moment of decision. And I will make every effort to ensure that we are able to leave with a deal and move our country forward,” May said, adding that Britain’s MPs now had a “clear choice”.
She, however, did not repeat her vehement opposition to the prospect of a longer extension to Article 50, which is likely to come with many strings attached from Brussels.
In return for even more time for Brexit, should Britain go down that route, the EU will demand that the UK holds a general election or a second referendum. A longer extension on offer is believed to run until December 31 this year or beyond.
The BBC quoting Downing Street sources said that an agreement with the EU to extend the Brexit deadline would be a piece of international law and would take precedence even if Parliament rejected it.