This week the European Council opted to extend Article 50 until 31 January 2020 to allow more time for the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement. If the UK Parliament passes the Withdrawal Bill, Brexit could take place earlier on 1 December 2019 or 1 January 2020.
In Brussels Michel Barnier called for a close partnership between the EU and UK after Brexit, acknowledging that peace in Ireland must remain a priority and that the “integrity of the single market is not negotiable”. He said the “risk of Brexit happening without a ratified deal still exists” – at the end of January 2020, or on 31 December 2020 if the EU and UK fail to reach an agreement on their future relationship and the transition period is not extended. Barnier insisted on the idea that “Brexit is just a stage, not a final destination”.
Across the pond, a general election will be held in the UK on December 12th. Boris Johnson’s fourth attempt to secure an early general election was finally backed by the SNP, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the DUP, with MPs voting 438 to 20 in favour, following the extension granted by the EU. The Conservatives currently have a significant lead of 10% over Labour, and while the Tories have restored the whip to 10 of the 21 rebel MPs who backed a Bill aimed at blocking no-deal Brexit, party grandees Ken Clarke and Philip Hammond, as well as David Gauke, have not had the whip restored, calling into the question the future of the moderate centre-right in the UK and the ability of the party to win an overall majority.
In Ireland, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar ruled out a pre-Christmas general election, saying he doesn’t believe it is in the public interest. He suggested Ireland could find itself in a “difficult period” in the run up to 31st January and it would not be suitable to try to put together a new government during this time of ongoing uncertainty. A general election is likely to take place in spring 2020.