British MPs have voted to delay Brexit beyond the scheduled departure date of March 29.
It comes after Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was rejected for the second time on Tuesday and MPs voted the following day to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
– What is happening in Westminster?
The Commons voted this evening to authorise the Prime Minister to request an extension to the two-year Article 50 negotiation process.
It was passed by 412 votes to 202 – a majority of 210.
Mrs May is expected to return to the Commons next week for another vote on her twice-defeated Brexit deal.
– What happens then?
If her deal is passed by next Wednesday, the Prime Minister will go to Brussels the following day to request a short Brexit delay to a date no later than June 30 to give herself time to pass legislative changes necessary for a smooth and orderly Brexit.
But if the Commons has not passed a resolution approving the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement by March 20, then the motion said it is “highly likely” the European Council would require a “clear purpose for any extension” and to determine its length.
The motion adds that any extension beyond June 30 would “require the United Kingdom to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019”.
– How could Brexit be delayed and for how long?
To secure an extension to Article 50, Mrs May would need the support of the 27 other EU states. They are likely to agree to an extension as long as there was a prospect of a deal being reached – or a referendum or general election which could change the political landscape at Westminster.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said that Brexit should be completed before the European elections which take place between May 23 and 26.
“If the UK has not left the EU by then, it will be legally required to hold these elections,” he said.
If a longer extension was sought, that would mean taking part in the elections, something likely to fuel Eurosceptic anger, and potentially see Nigel Farage standing for the new Brexit Party.
– What has the EU said?
European Council president Donald Tusk has indicated that the EU may be ready to offer a lengthy extension to negotiations if the UK wants to “rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it”.
On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to say how long she thinks a possible delay to Brexit should be, but said it was in “our mutual interest that we achieve an orderly departure”.
French president Emmanuel Macron said Britain needed a clear reason for requesting an extension and extra time could not be used to renegotiate the withdrawal.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said London must decide what it wants from Brexit before Brussels will consider a delay.
– Will the Prime Minister seek further changes in Brussels?
Mr Juncker was clear during his meeting with the Prime Minister in Strasbourg that there was no more room for movement.
“In politics, sometimes you get a second chance. It is what we do with this second chance that counts. Because there will be no third chance,” he said.
“There will be no further interpretations of the interpretations, and no further assurances of the reassurances.”
But a European Council summit on March 21 could give Mrs May one last chance to persuade her fellow leaders face-to-face that she needs extra help to get a deal over the line.
– So what happens on March 29?
It is still impossible to say. If a deal is somehow reached and legislated for then, although the UK will formally leave the EU at 11pm, very little will change as a transition period will smooth progress to the UK’s new future.
If there is a delay, the UK will still be in the European Union until the extension period expires.
But if there is a no-deal Brexit, things are a lot more uncertain – the UK Government has been ramping up preparations to try to prevent shortages of food and medicine amid fears that increased bureaucracy will clog up key ports where goods arrive from the Continent.
- Press Association