The date of the UK's departure from the EU is now less clear after this week's European Council meeting.

The European Council decided on 21 March 2019:

  • "The European Council agrees to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week. If the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by the House of Commons next week, the European Council agrees to an extension until 12 April 2019 and expects the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council"

So:

  • The UK would leave the EU on 22 May 2019 (i.e., the day before the European Parliament elections are due to be held in the UK) but only if the UK's House of Commons approves the current Withdrawal Agreement in the week commencing 25 April 2019. That is not an easy task as the House of Commons has twice rejected the current draft Agreement and there are reports that MPs may be given a menu of options to choose from next week
  • But if the House of Commons does not approve the Withdrawal Agreement next week then the UK has an extension until 12 April 2019 on its membership of the EU (i.e., the two year notice period ending on 29 March 2019 is delayed). However it is not clear that the UK will definitely be leaving on 12 April 2019 because the European Council has also said that it "expects the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council." As the UK has already said that it needs more time to enact national legislation, it is difficult to see the UK leaving the EU with all the laws and agreements in place two weeks after the original departure date of 29 March 2019. This is all the more so given that, as recently as 20 March, the UK was looking for an extension until 30 June 2019. It is also notable that the European Council has not ruled out a second extension or other extensions. So, the issue of when the UK would leave (if ever) has been delayed further.

Ironically, when one analyses the legal implications of this political decision of the European Council, we have quite possibly moved from worrying about a "no deal" scenario to adding a possible "no date" situation to the list of worries.

If the UK does not vote for the Withdrawal Agreement next week and does not submit an acceptable plan before 12 April then there could be quite a degree of uncertainty over when the UK would leave the EU. This is complicated by the fact that the European Parliament elections would have to be held at the end of May, the new European Parliament is not due to sit until July and the European Parliament has to approve any withdrawal agreement. Equally, there would also be a new Commission in November. So we might, by having this extension, added a new term to the Brexit dictionary: "the no deadline" scenario.

It looks like the Brexit Saga is going to run for even longer!