- 14 Mar 19
If you thought the entire Brexit fiasco was coming to an end, then think again. Today, in the House of Commons, MPs decided to ask the EU for an extension, in the hope that a deal might yet be done. To add to the general confusion, Parliament also decided against a People's Vote – though campaigners still believe that this remains an option.
The Brexit saga took another twist in the House of Commons today, with MPs voting overwhelmingly in favour of delaying the process. However, the stark reality facing Teresa May and her government is that all they can do is – hopefully politely – ask the European Union for an extension. It is up to the 27 member States to decide if the extension will be granted.
MPs voted yesterday to take a No Deal exit off the table. However, there is an element of presumption involved, in that this remains the legal default position if MPs do not vote to accept the terms negotiated between the EU and the U.K. over the past two years.
Curiously, the majority in favour of delaying Britain's exit was not as big as had been the case in the initial rejection of UK Prime Minister Teresa May's Brexit deal. The final tally today was 412 for and 202 against – a margin of 210. Rejection of May's deal was originally by a majority of 230.
The full implications of today's decision will have to be teased out politically. The UK is due to leave the European Union on Friday March 29. The request is for a short extension to this time-frame, if a deal can be agreed by March 20th. However, a longer delay will be required in the event that no agreement is reached. And the implicit threat is that this might become a very long extension indeed – thereby frustrating the wishes of extreme Brexiteers. The ultimate danger is that the time-lag might in fact put a brake on the process and lead to a situation where the Brexit fire is doused completely, momentum is lost, and the option of staying in the E.U. eventually prevails.
That concern will doubtless have been amplified by the appeal made by today's statement from European Council President, Donald Tusk, that he will appeal to the 27 member states of the European Union to be open to a long delay.
"I will appeal to the EU 27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to re-think its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it," Tusk said via Twitter. EU leaders are due to meet to on 21-22 March, to discuss Brexit.
Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney (pictured), today told RTÉ's Sean O'Rourke that an extension of 21 months was a possibility. How that thought might be viewed in the UK is a different matter – though Teresa May may feel that it will be enough to spook Brexiteers into a climb-down.
With the spectre of a protracted delay in mind, Teresa May will almost certainly present her deal to parliament again next week, in the hope that hardcore Brexiteers, including the DUP, will fall into line.
To add to the general air of confusion, in a separate vote today, MPs decided against a second Brexit Referendum by 334 to 85. Even adding back in those who didn't vote, it would seem that there is a majority against a People's Vote. However, campaigners for a second Referendum complained that the time was not yet right for that question to be put to Parliament. And of course, they may indeed have a point.