Britain’s EU exit on hold for almost two months

EU leaders agree extension if MPs approve British prime minister’s Brexit deal next week

European Council president Donald Tusk says all Brexit options are still open for Britain until April 12th after a summit of EU leaders agreed on prime minister Theresa May's request to delay the leave date from March 29th. Video: EU Council

 

European Union leaders have agreed to postpone Britain’s departure by almost two months until May 22nd if MPs at Westminster approve British prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal next week.

If they fail to do so, Britain will leave the EU on April 12th, just two weeks after the planned exit date of March 29th, unless it chooses to hold European Parliament elections at the end of May.

Mrs May spent almost two hours answering questions about her plans for Brexit from the other EU27 leaders before they continued their discussion without her for a further seven hours.

Mrs May indicated that she intended to hold another meaningful vote soon on her withdrawal agreement with the EU, but stopped short of giving a clear commitment to hold one next week. She did say, however, that she believed she would have won a vote this week had the intervention by the speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow not led to its cancellation.

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Mr Bercow ruled that there could not be another vote on the same proposition, but Mrs May told EU leaders that she believed there were a number of avenues to ensuring that a new vote could be held, and that she was “confident” she could win the vote. However, there is a degree of scepticism about this among EU leaders. This was heightened when Mrs May used the same formulation to answer several different questions.

The British PM repeatedly assured EU leaders, including the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, that she wanted to avoid a no-deal outcome.She spoke to the summit for half an hour and was pressed for another hour with questions by the leaders, before leaving the 27 to their deliberations. But the PM declined to speculate when asked about what she would do if the Commons again votes down the withdrawal agreement.

In a debate that extended long over schedule into the leaders’ dinner they also approved the text of assurances agreed between the EU and UK in Strasbourg last week.

The formal approval of the Strasbourg assurances by the European Council should assist Mrs May to argue that there are significant changes to the deal that has twice been voted down, enabling it to be put to the Commons again.

The council once again also declared in its formal “conclusions” that the EU will not renegotiate the Brexit divorce terms included in the withdrawal agreement.