Summary:

  • On 20 March, the UK Prime Minister formally wrote to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, requesting that Brexit should be delayed until 30 June 2019 – three months later than the long-envisaged exit date next Friday, 29 March 2019.
  • The UK Government’s request will be discussed on 21 March by the EU’s 27 heads of state and government at the European Council summit in Brussels.
  • It is unlikely the EU will unanimously approve the UK’s request, as this would necessitate the UK taking part in European Parliamentary elections on 23 May 2019.
  • The EU’s constitutional lawyers have advised that the UK remaining as a member state without UK Members of European Parliament having been elected could leave the EU’s institutions in paralysis. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, has emphatically stated that “it is absolutely not in the interests of the European union for [Brexit] to occur beyond the date of the European elections”.
  • Therefore, it is likely that any extension granted by the EU (a) sets a new Brexit date of no later than 22 May 2019; and (b) is made conditional on the UK Government getting UK Parliamentary approval – at the third time of asking – of the Brexit “Withdrawal Agreement” that the UK Government negotiated with the EU.
  • If the UK Government fails to get approval for the Withdrawal Agreement, senior EU figures have suggested it is likely an emergency EU summit will be convened next week (potentially hours before the 29 March deadline) and the EU may offer either a long extension (potentially to the end of 2019) or a No-Deal Brexit.
  • Simultaneously, UK Parliament will again look to seize control of Brexit proceedings from the UK Government as the window to change the UK’s path forward before what is still the default course of action – No-Deal Brexit on 29 March 2019 – can take effect.