Brexit delayed until October 31, EU and UK agree

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02:37 mins.
11.04.2019

EU extends Brexit deadline

Theresa May has accepted an offer from Brussels to extend the Brexit deadline to October 31. The delay could force the UK to take part in European elections unless it can pass a divorce deal through parliament.

The Brexit deadline was extended to October 31 after British Prime Minister Theresa May accepted an offer from the leaders of the European Union on Thursday. 

European Council President Donald Tusk said the extension would allow the UK to "find the best possible solution." 

"Tonight the European Council decided to grant the UK a flexible extension of the Article 50 period until the 31st of October. This means an additional six months for the UK," Tusk said in a live press conference following the decision.

UK to leave 'as soon as possible'

May reacted to the extension by pledging to ensure that the UK could "leave as soon as possible." She said she "sincerely regretted" the fact that she had not been able to persuade parliament yet to reach a deal. 

"I know that there is huge frustration from many people that I had to request this extension," May acknowledged.

May said her country could pass a Brexit deal in the first three weeks of May to avoid taking part in EU elections. "This decision enables us to do that," May said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Wednesday's "intense evening" showed the EU's unity. "For Germany it was always clear: we are fighting and advocating for an orderly withdrawal of Great Britain out of the EU," Merkel said.

'Do not waste this time'

Tusk told reporters that during those six months, "the call for action will be entirely in the UK’s hands."

If the UK ratifies the current withdrawal agreement, the extension will be terminated. But he added that the UK can also use the time to "reconsider the whole Brexit strategy."

Tusk said the extension was as flexible as he expected, although shorter than he hoped. But ultimately, he warned the UK: "Please do not waste this time." 

Read more: 'No-deal Brexit would poison EU-UK relations for generations'

French President Emmanuel Macron said there need to be severe conditions in place for a longer Brexit delay

Withdrawal agreement stands

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he was satisfied with the extension and its outcome. But in a warning to UK lawmakers, Juncker said the current withdrawal agreement would not be renegotiated.

"The withdrawal agreement must be respected in its entirety," he said, adding that to call it into question would "jeopardize the backstop agreement."

Juncker also confirmed that the UK would participate in EU parliamentary elections in May. "That may seem odd, but rules are rules and we must respect European law," he explained.

Finding compromise

As EU members gathered in Brussels on Wednesday to decide Brexit's fate, Tusk had pushed for an extension of up to one year, but others — including French President Emmanuel Macron — had feared it could lead to the UK meddling in EU affairs for months before leaving.

Read more: Should non-EU citizens be worried about a hard Brexit?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament earlier that she backed a longer extension, saying: "That's why I'm advocating, if there's a large majority for it today, that we can very well make the extension run for several months — but without dragging anything out. Instead, the exit should be possible as soon as the UK has decided [on how it wishes to leave]."

Read more: China could be big winner in no-deal Brexit

French President Emmanuel Macron had expressed caution over a lengthy extension, saying: "What is indispensable is that nothing compromises the European project. We have a European renaissance to lead ... and I do not want the subject of Brexit to block us on this point."

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Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

June 2016: 'The will of the British people'

After a shrill referendum campaign, nearly 52 percent of British voters opted to leave the EU on June 23. Polls had shown a close race before the vote with a slight lead for those favoring remaining in the EU. Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for Britain to stay, acknowledged the "will of the British people" and resigned the following morning.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July 2016: 'Brexit means Brexit'

Former Home Secretary Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister on July 11 and promised the country that "Brexit means Brexit." May had quietly supported the Remain campaign before the referendum. She did not initially say when her government would trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty to start the two-year talks leading to Britain's formal exit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2017: 'We already miss you'

May eventually signed a diplomatic letter over six months later on March 29, 2017 to trigger Article 50. Hours later, Britain's ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, handed the note to European Council President Donald Tusk. Britain's exit was officially set for March 29, 2019. Tusk ended his brief statement on the decision with: "We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye."

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

June 2017: And they're off!

British Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, kicked off talks in Brussels on June 19. The first round ended with Britain reluctantly agreeing to follow the EU's timeline for the rest of the negotiations. The timeline split talks into two phases. The first would settle the terms of Britain's exit, and the second the terms of the EU-UK relationship post-Brexit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July-October 2017: Money, rights and Ireland

The second round of talks in mid-July began with an unflattering photo of a seemingly unprepared British team. It and subsequent rounds ended with little progress on three phase one issues: How much Britain still needed to pay into the EU budget after it leaves, the post-Brexit rights of EU and British citizens and whether Britain could keep an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

December 2017: Go-ahead for phase 2

Leaders of the remaining 27 EU members formally agreed that "sufficient progress" had been made to move on to phase two issues: the post-Brexit transition period and the future UK-EU trading relationship. While Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her delight at the decision, European Council President Tusk ominously warned that the second stage of talks would be "dramatically difficult."

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July 2018: Johnson, Davis resign

British ministers appeared to back a Brexit plan at May's Chequers residence on July 6. The proposal would have kept Britain in a "combined customs territory" with the EU and signed up to a "common rulebook" on all goods. That went too far for British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis, who resigned a few days later. May replaced them with Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

September 2018: No cherries for Britain

May's Chequers proposal did not go down well with EU leaders, who told her at a summit in Salzburg in late September that it was unacceptable. EU Council President Tusk trolled May on Instagram, captioning a picture of himself and May looking at cakes with the line: "A piece of cake perhaps? Sorry, no cherries." The gag echoed previous EU accusations of British cherry-picking.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

November 2018: Breakthrough in Brussels

EU leaders endorsed a 585-page draft divorce deal and political declaration on post-Brexit ties in late November. The draft had been widely condemned by pro- and anti-Brexit lawmakers in the British Parliament only weeks earlier. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned along with several other ministers, and dozens of Conservative Party members tried to trigger a no-confidence vote in May.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

December 2018: May survives rebellion

In the face of unrelenting opposition, May postponed a parliamentary vote on the deal on December 10. The next day, she met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to seek reassurances that would, she hoped, be enough to convince skeptical lawmakers to back the deal. But while she was away, hard-line Conservative lawmakers triggered a no-confidence vote. May won the vote a day later.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

January 2019: Agreement voted down

The UK Parliament voted 432 to 202 against May's Brexit deal on January 16. In response to the result, European Council President Donald Tusk suggested the only solution was for the UK to stay in the EU. Meanwhile, Britain's Labour Party called for a no-confidence vote in the prime minister, her second leadership challenge in as many months.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2019: Second defeat for May's deal

May tried to get legal changes to the deal's so-called Irish backstop in the weeks that followed. She eventually got assurances that the UK could suspend the backstop under certain circumstances. But on March 12, Parliament voted against the revised Brexit deal by 391 to 242. EU leaders warned the vote increased the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. Two days later, MPs voted to delay Brexit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2019: Extension after second defeat

Following the second defeat of May's divorce deal, the European Council met in Brussels on March 21 to decide what to do next. EU leaders gave May two options: delay Brexit until May 22 if MPs vote for the withdrawal deal or delay it until April 12 if they vote against the deal. If the deal were to fail again in Parliament, May could ask for a long extension.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2019: Brexit deal rejected a third time

On March 29, the day that the UK was supposed to leave the EU, British lawmakers voted for a third time against May's deal — rejecting it this time with a vote of 344 to 286. Following the latest defeat, May approached the main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to find a compromise, angering hardline Brexiteers in her own Conservative party.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

April 2019: Brexit delayed until Halloween

With the April 12 deadline looming after the third defeat of May's deal, EU leaders met again in Brussels to discuss a second delay. The only question was how long should it be? In the end, the UK and EU agreed to a "flexible" extension until October 31 — which can end sooner if the Brexit deal is approved. If the deal isn't ratified by May 22, the UK would have to take part in European elections.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

May 2019: Prime Minister Theresa May resigns

Weeks of talks between Prime Minister Theresa May and the Labour party to reach a deal proved unsuccessful and further eroded her political capital. She triggered an angry backlash from her party after she tried to put the option of a second referendum on the table. The series of failures led May to announce her resignation, effective June 7, in an emotional address.

jcg, ls/aw (Reuters, AP)