What next? A new delay could prolong UK’s Brexit agony
British Prime Minister Theresa May is crisscrossing Europe in search of a Brexit delay. In London, government ministers are meeting their political opponents in search of a European Union divorce deal. Meanwhile, Britain is scheduled to leave the EU in three days.
For two years, Britain was scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, 2019. But after Parliament three times rejected the divorce deal agreed between the U.K. government and the bloc, May admitted defeat and asked for more time.
Last month, the EU gave Britain until April 12 – this Friday – to pass a deal, come up with a new plan and seek a further extension, or leave without an agreement or a transition period to smooth the way.
Now May wants a bit more time. She has asked the EU to delay Brexit until June 30, in hope that’ll be enough time to secure, approve and implement a deal.
The 27 other leaders of the bloc will consider the request at an emergency Brexit summit in Brussels on Wednesday. Few favour the June 30 date. Some want a longer extension, to avoid repeated crises every few weeks.
European Council President Donald Tusk has proposed a “flextension:” a delay of up to a year, but with flexibility to let Britain leave earlier if it approves an agreement.
But an extension is not guaranteed. French President Emmanuel Macron has hinted at opposition to any further delay, saying the bloc can’t be held “hostage” to Britain’s political crisis.
Most politicians, economists and business groups think leaving the world’s largest trading bloc without an agreement would be damaging for the EU and disastrous for the U.K. It could lead to tariffs imposed on trade between Britain and the EU and customs checks that could cause gridlock at ports and shortages of essential goods.
A hard core of pro-Brexit lawmakers in May’s Conservative Party dismiss such warnings as fear-mongering. But most are opposed to leaving without a deal. Parliament has voted repeatedly to rule out a “no-deal” Brexit, and even passed a law that forces the government to ask for a delay to Britain’s exit rather than crash out.
But a no-deal Brexit is still the legal default position, and could happen if the EU refuses to grant another extension. If that happens the only way to stop Britain crashing out would be for the government to choose the “nuclear option” and revoke the decision to leave.