The European Union (EU) is set to agree a short extension to Article 50, but only if Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal is passed by the British Parliament, with the third vote expected to take place on Monday, 25 March.
The European Council will meet on 21 March and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK) is expected to outline her strategy for getting the deal through Parliament at the third time of asking.
In the previous two so-called meaningful votes on the deal, Parliament delivered resounding rejections on both occasions, failing by 230 and 149 votes, the worst and fourth-worst defeats in UK parliamentary history respectively.
Donald Tusk, the European Council President, said it would be possible to extend Article 50 but the EU is likely to want an extension up to the European Union elections, and Tusk admitted that success for the vote appeared “frail, even illusory.”
Tusk’s view is largely based on the view that many Members of Parliament (MPs) from May’s own party’s would be willing to vote down her deal in order to achieve a no deal Brexit. Another barrier to May’s deal could be the Speaker of the House’s ruling that the Government cannot return with the same substantial motion to Parliament in the same session.
In addition, almost all of the other parties are likely to reject the deal, including the Democratic Unionists (DUP), the Northern Irish party which struck a deal to support the minority Conservative Government after the 2017 election. But the DUP have been unable to support the arrangements in May’s deal that would prevent a hard border between Northern and Southern Ireland, known as the Irish backstop, should negotiations between the EU and UK breakdown in the future.
That position appears difficult to change given that the EU has said that it will not negotiate any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. If May’s deal fails for a third time there could be a longer extension to Article 50 following an emergency meeting of the European Council on 28 March, the day before the scheduled Brexit day.