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Brexit Explained: EU agrees to postpone March 29 deadline

The leaders of the European Union have agreed to delay the Article 50 process, postponing Brexit beyond its designated deadline of March 29. The United Kingdom will be offered a delay until May 22, if the British MPs approve the withdrawal deal negotiated with the European Union next week.

Mar 22, 2019 13:50 IST
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The leaders of the European Union have agreed to delay the Article 50 process, postponing Brexit beyond its designated deadline of March 29. The United Kingdom will be offered a delay until May 22, if the British MPs approve the withdrawal deal negotiated with the European Union next week.

In a press conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk said that British PM Theresa May has accepted an offer of two options for short delays to the date of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.

In case the British MPs fail to approve the deal yet again, the European Union will back a shorter delay until April 12, allowing the United Kingdom to get the deal through or to indicate a way forward.

Speaking on the same, May said there was now a clear choice facing UK MPs, who could vote for a third time on her deal next week. Either they could back the withdrawal deal, deliver on the referendum and leave the EU in an orderly manner or face the prospect of having to stand candidates in the European Parliamentary elections, three years after the UK voted to leave the EU.

May also dismissed calls to revoke Article 50, as a petition calling for that on the Parliament website attracted more than two million signatures, saying people had voted to leave and were told their decision would be respected.

British Legislators seek extension to March 29 deadline

The British Legislators on March 14, 2019 voted to seek an extension of the March 29 deadline for Britain's exit from the European Union, to negotiate a new withdrawal agreement. The motion was passed in the House of Commons with 412 votes in favour and 202 against.

The MPs, however, rejected an amendment to the motion that sought to hold another referendum during the delayed period. The motion to delay the Brexit process would now require the unanimous approval of all 27 remaining EU member states, which in effect gives the 28-member bloc the power to dictate the terms of an extension.

The vote seeking a delay in Brexit follows a vote by the British Legislators on March 13, which rejected the possibility of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without having a withdrawal agreement in place.

British Prime Minister Theresa May had tabled a government motion against a no-deal Brexit within the March 29 deadline, which was passed by the House of Commons with a majority of 43 votes as 321 MPs voted in favour and 278 voted against.

May will now make a third attempt to get her withdrawal deal pass through next week, after it was rejected by huge margins in the previous two votes.

Brexit deal rejected for second time

The UK Parliament on March 12, 2019 had overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a second time, delivering a massive blow to her efforts to see the withdrawal agreement through before the planned withdrawal of Britain from the European on March 29.

With just 17 days to go, the British lawmakers rejected the deal 391-242, ignoring May’s pleas to back the agreement and end the political chaos and economic uncertainty that Brexit has unleashed. However, this time around the outcome was narrower than the historic 230-vote margin of defeat for the agreement in January 2019.

May defeated as a leader?

May’s massive defeat in the Parliament has not only raised uncertainty over Brexit but also to her authority as leader. Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for the general election to allow the British public to decide who should lead them into the next phase of Brexit.

Prior to the significant vote, May had managed to secure some key changes to the deal from the EU, removing one of the biggest roadblocks.

To ensure a breakthrough this time around, May had flown to Strasbourg, France on the eve of the crucial vote, to seek revisions, guarantees and other changes from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker that would persuade reluctant British legislators to back the deal. In a joint press conference, May and Juncker claimed to have succeeded.

  UK Parliament rejects Brexit deal for a second time

Brexit Deal: Key new changes

The new documents added to the deal provided legally binding changes to the part relating to the Irish border. The legal 585-page withdrawal agreement itself though was left intact.

The newly introduced changes were expected to overcome legislators’ qualms about a mechanism in the deal designed to keep an open border between Britain’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place.

According to Brexit-supporters, the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely. Hence, they are demanding for a unilateral British exit mechanism from the backstop.

However, May stated that the new changes guarantee that EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely.

What will happen now?

The new motion passed by the UK Parliament would have to be ratified by the EU and the length of extension will become the next focus on both the sides. Unless both sides agree to the same, the legal default option is that the UK would leave the EU without a deal on March 29.

The Chief of European Union Council, Donald Tusk has said that the bloc could approve a long postponement if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.

Background

The United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union on March 29, 2019, two years after the Brexit referendum in June 2016 that triggered Article 50, the exit clause in the EU's constitution and kick-started arduous negotiations with European leaders over a divorce deal.

The British Government has, however, not yet been able to win parliamentary approval for its agreement with the European Union on withdrawal terms and future relations.

The deadlock has raised fears of a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit that could result in a major economic crisis and disruption for businesses and people both in Britain and the remaining twenty seven EU nations.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has been frantically working to save her deal. She is under mounting pressure to quit. She survived a bid to oust her through a no-confidence vote in December 2018.

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