While the Brexit situation is currently highly fluid and in many ways unpredictable, it now seems clear that the UK will not be leaving the EU on 29 March, as originally stipulated by the triggering of Article 50 two years ago.
The EU has agreed to an extension of Article 50, in the hope this will allow the UK to find a way out of the current political impasse. There are two key dates. If the EU Withdrawal Agreement is agreed by the UK’s House of Commons by 29 March then the Article 50 extension will be to 22 May 2019. Failing that, the extension is only to 12 April. However, the EU has indicated that if Parliament can agree on a way forward before 12 April then a further extension can be considered by the European Council.
This, it is hoped, will allow for the Government work out a way forward and, if required, to resume negotiations with the EU with the full backing of Parliament, and avoid a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. There remain many challenges however. Firstly, the Brexit agreement that currently exists has already been voted against in Parliament (by significant numbers) twice and there is still no guarantee it would pass Parliament now. There is also a constitutional question about whether the Speaker of the Commons will allow the deal to be voted on a third time, though it seems likely that a way around this issue can be found if necessary.
If Parliament cannot agree to approve the existing deal but can agree on an alternative approach to Brexit, and the UK Government adopts such an approach, the EU has indicated that it is willing to consider a longer extension. This could be, for example, to negotiate a customs union and/or continued participation in the Single Market, or to allow time for a second referendum in the UK on whether to proceed with Brexit or remain in the EU. However, a lengthy delay on Brexit would mean that the UK would have to partake in elections to the European Parliament in June, which for many is an unpalatable political option. There remains, therefore, a very real possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
While the situation is highly disturbing to businesses and individuals alike, much of the groundwork has been done for the continuation of existing IP rights in the UK and the EU (further technical detail can be found here).