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4th Dec 2021

EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April

EU-27 leaders on Thursday (21 March) offered to delay Brexit until 22 May, if British MPs approve Theresa May's deal next week in parliament. If they don't, then that delay will be shortened to 12 April.

EU leaders held marathon talks late into the night at their crucial summit in Brussels to discuss British prime minister Theresa May's request to extend the Brexit deadline until 30 June.

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With only eight days until the UK's original date for leaving the EU on 29 March, British lawmakers have already voted twice comprehensively to reject the withdrawal agreement negotiated by May's government and the EU, by 230 and 149 votes respectively.

EU-27 leaders decided that if May manages to push through the deal next week, they would extend the cut-off date until 22 May to allow legal and legislative time to prepare for an amicable divorce under the agreed deal.

But if the deal fails, London has until 12 April to come up with a new strategy.

That could entail leaving without a deal, revoking Article 50 and thereby stopping Brexit, or asking for a longer extension - which would require the UK to participate in EU elections in May.

"What this means in practice is that, until that date, all options will remain open, and the cliff-edge date will be delayed," EU council president Donald Tusk said after the meeting.

Asked how much more time a long extension means, EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker quipped: "Until the very end".

May in a speech on Wednesday ruled out asking for a longer extension beyond 30 June.

All options

At the first day of the summit, EU leaders quizzed May for almost two hours about her plans in case MPs reject her deal, already backed with additional EU assurances, in a third possible vote next week, as the "feeling in the room was that the likelihood of a positive vote is very small", an EU official said.

EU leaders did not get a clear answer, officials added.

May later exited the room, leaving the EU-27 having to decide when the UK would leave the bloc.

EU leaders wanted to avoid being put under pressure next week in case the deal is once again rejected in Westminster, leaving little time for the EU to avoid a no-deal scenario and be blamed for a disorderly Brexit.

There was already talk of a possible summit next week for last minute discussions on no-deal.

The EU-27, however, managed to keep all options open by passing the Brexit 'hot potato' back to London, which will now have to decide between a deal, no deal, a long extension with EU elections or revoking Article 50.

During the leaders' discussion, Tusk shuttled between the EU-27 and May to keep the British prime minister informed and have her consent for the emerging timetable.

Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel pushed to avoid no-deal divorce next week, and Belgium and Ireland also raised concerns about the UK crashing out next Friday, another official said.

Meanwhile, French president Emmanuel Macron pushed for a harder line, to pressure the UK and avoid an emergency last-chance summit next week.

May told reporters after the meeting that it would be wrong to ask British people to participate in EU elections three years after voting to leave the bloc.

She also urged British MPs to pass her Brexit deal.

"I hope we can all agree, we are now at the moment of decision," May said on the possibly last summit of a British prime minister as a member of the EU leaders' club.

Talks on Brexit ran so late into the night that scheduled discussions on the EU's relations with China were postponed until Friday.

May tosses Brexit spanner into EU machinery

The UK is seeking a three-month delay to leave in the European Union. But its 30 June deadline is a major headache given the European elections in May. The European Commission is demanding EU summit leaders reject May's proposal.

May to seek Brexit extension amid UK 'constitutional crisis'

The British prime minister's strategy - to have the looming Brexit deadline pressurise MPs into accepting the divorce deal - is in chaos, after a third meaningful vote was ruled out. The EU awaits a Brexit extension request by London.

Have a good reason for Brexit extension, Barnier tells UK

Ahead of the crucial summit of EU leaders on Brexit this week, the EU's chief negotiator warned Theresa May's government to have a clear objective for an extension that she still needs to request formally from the EU.

No-deal Brexit 'very likely', Barnier warns

After British MPs once again rejected all alternative options, the EU's chief negotiator said it is "very likely" the UK will leave without a deal. And a long extension needs a "strong justification" from the UK.

Ireland stuck between no-deal Brexit plans and peace deal

As the possibility of no-deal Brexit rises, Dublin will be tasked to police the EU's new frontier. But leaders there insist there are no preparations for a hard border - because it also needs to protect the 1998 peace deal.

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