Brexit rumbles on
Late Wednesday evening the House of Commons voted in favour of legislation which forces the UK government to request another extension to the Brexit process. The bill, tabled by Labour MP Yvette Copper, passed by the narrowest of majorities – one vote.
This means that Prime Minister Theresa May is now required to ask the EU for another extension to the Article 50 process in the case that her withdrawal deal does not secure backing. Britain is currently due to depart on April 12, but many observers doubt that May will be able to get her deal through the House of Commons before that. After already being defeated three times, it looks increasingly likely.
This morning, Prime Minister May wrote to EU Council President Donald Tusk requesting a short extension to the Article 50 process – until June 30th.
The EU has said it would be open to an extension. But it would likely have to be a long delay, requiring the UK to take part in elections to the European Parliament on May 23, a move that May has bitterly opposed.
A long extension to Brexit drew vehement criticism from Guy Verhofstadt, head of the European Parliament Brexit Steering Group. He decried the idea, saying that the architects of the Brexit mess, naming Boris Johnson and Michael Gove “would have the keys in their hands on the future of the European Union.”
Earlier in the week May held talks with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn in an effort to find a way out of the Brexit impasse. Labour want to achieve a customs union with the EU, access to the single market and dynamic regulatory alignment, that is “a guarantee of European regulations as a minimum on the environment, consumer and workers’ rights”. Many Conservatives MPs argue that a Customs Union would destroy part of the rationale for Brexit by making it much harder to conclude trade deals with third countries.
In the meantime Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar held meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both Merkel and Varadkar are among the EU leaders who most want to avoid the UK crashing out without a deal. Macron however has been more hardline stating that “A long extension, implying the UK takes part in European elections and European institutions, has nothing easy or automatic about it. I say that again very strongly. Our priority must be the good functioning of the EU and the single market. The EU can’t be held hostage long-term by the resolution of a political crisis in the UK.”
What happens now? Talks between government negotiators and Labour are set to continue after May and Corbyn agreed a ‘programme of work’. May wants to agree a policy with the Labour leader for MPs to vote on before next Wednesday, 10 April – when the EU will hold an emergency summit on Brexit in Brussels.