British Prime Minister Theresa May is reportedly writing to the European Union (EU) today to ask for an extension to Article 50 of three months – to 30 June, with an option of a two-year delay.
News outlets in the United Kingdom (UK) are reporting that May is planning to return her deal to Parliament with a revised date attached as the new element of the deal that it expects will satisfy the rules outlined by Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow yesterday, 18 March.
Bercow intervened in the Brexit process, effectively telling the Government that it must bring substantial changes to the deal, rather than returning with the same deal again and again. His terms took the Government by surprise and left the process in chaos. It is not clear whether Bercow will interpret a new date as a “substantial change.”
Chaos in the UK Parliament is relative; the process was already seen as incoherent, nebulous and corrosive, but following Bercow’s ruling no one was clear what the next step was. The shock was palpable.
The Speaker’s intervention “raised the bar,” according to Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, but Members of Parliament (MPs) who have voted against May’s deal in the past are now expected to vote for the deal. Agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has still not been announced.
There are other risks, aside from the uncertainty of the DUP’s support, for the Government, including that Conservative backbenchers could be angered by the proposal for a long extension. Two key questions remain unanswered – Will the UK be involved in the long-term decisions such as budget negotiations for the EU’s 2020 budget that will commence when the new European Commission is in place (following European elections in May)? Will the UK be involved in the selection of the new European Commission?
Any third vote on the Conservative’s Brexit deal, if it is allowed by Bercow, would be May’s final chance to force through her deal. There will be no fourth vote.
Hannah White, Deputy Director of the Institute for Government, an independent research group focusing on government policy, said that it would be difficult to see how a third vote on the Prime Minister’s deal this week. Again, May will ask for an extension to Article 50 at the EU Summit, which takes place on 21 March. In addition to asking for an extension to Article 50, she is also hoping to return to Parliament with her Brexit deal, after the EU Summit.
According to White, “May will go to [the] EU Summit without a deal done. May said last week that if she did not have a deal approved by the House [of Commons] she would have to ask for a longer extension.”
But the very fact that May plans to return to Parliament with her deal in the week that Brexit is due to take place, 29 March at 11:00 p.m., means that this is a move literally at the eleventh hour.
White also pointed out that with the EU focusing on its elections and an entirely new European Commission, it does not look like the EU will be in a position to negotiate until the end of the year, “and even that nine months seems tight if a whole new re-negotiation is taking place, so you might need longer still.”