On Thursday, March 14, British MPs gathered to vote on a motion asking for an extension on UK’s deadline to exit the European Union (EU). With 412 votes for and 202 votes against the motion, the UK has decided to seek an extension to the Brexit deadline until June 30. This means that the country will not be leaving the EU on March 29 and has time until June to formulate other plans, if the EU agrees. All 27 member countries have to agree to delay the UK’s exits.
“We take note of tonight’s votes. A request for an extension of Article 50 requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 Member States. It will be for the European Council (Article 50) to consider such a request, giving priority to the need to ensure the functioning of the EU institutions and taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension. President Juncker is in constant contact with all leaders,” an EU spokesperson said soon after the vote.
Parliamentarians also voted against holding a second referendum, indicating that Brexit is happening one way or another.
Prime Minister Theresa May is set to present her deal to parliament again next week, before she goes to an EU summit to seek the extension. If the British parliament agree on a deal in the next few days, the delay will likely only be until June. But if it fails to do so, the UK will almost certainly have to seek a longer extension, perhaps even until next year.
The delay will bring some relief to the country—and the EU—after May’s Brexit deal has twice been rejected by the parliament. May’s original deal, negotiated over two years, was rejected in January by a 230-vote margin—the government’s worst drubbing in modern history. On March 12, MPs rejected May’s revised Brexit deal, adding to the chaos and confusion that has engulfed much of the Brexit process. On March 13, parliamentarians voted 321 to 278 against a no-deal scenario, ensuring that the UK will not leave the EU unless there is a deal.
Parliament may have agreed to delay Brexit, but the UK’s woes are far from over.
What did the House say?
BBC reports that the government wants to retain control of the Brexit process and have a say in what the future dynamic with the EU will look like.
If the UK leaves before either side has clarity, it risks being at the receiving end of potentially harsh economic and travel policies at worst and the blame for international confusion and indecision at best.
Here’s what happens next
Although the UK parliament has decided that it needs an extension, the vote is not binding.
In the coming days, parliament will vote for a third time on May’s Brexit deal. The vote must take place before March 20.
On March 21, May will travel to Brussels for the EU Council Summit, where she will seek an extension of the exit process. The results of the vote on her deal will determine what happens next.
If May’s deal is to pass, then the UK will be seeking an extension only until June 30. If her deal fails, it is uncharted territory. In such a scenario May will likely seek a longer extension, perhaps even until next year.
Now if the EU is to reject May’s request, then the UK will exit the bloc on March 29, with or without a deal.
The EU will likely grant the UK an extension because it has said that it wants an agreement and a March 29 deadline might be too soon for a deal to materialise.
In fact, some EU countries have already begun planning for the chaos a no-deal scenario will bring.
One of the most important issues that a Brexit deal must address is the legal residential status of British nationals living in the EU.
France’s Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Nathalia Loiseau said that her country will guarantee residence, employment, and welfare rights to British nationals if French expatriates are given the same treatment.
The EU has also said that it wants to avoid confusion and long queues at ports, airports, and other travel and customs checkpoints.
Therefore, moving forward, the UK must piece together an agreement that addresses the rights of British residents living in the UK and trading policies.
The Brexit deal must also find a solution to the Irish backstop- an issue that has proven to be contentious with no ideal solution in sight.
“The responsibility falls squarely on the UK government to do all it can to make sure its citizens, wherever they live, are protected”, said Loiseau.
Will domestic politics be an issue?
Other than Brexit’s international implications, May also has to pay heeds to domestic concerns.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly called for a general election to oust the prime minister.
Although May survived a no-confidence vote in January, Corbyn claims that she does not have the support of the British people.
“The prime minister has run down the clock, and the clock has been run out on her. Maybe, it’s time instead we had a general election and the people could choose who their government should be,” Corbyn said after the no-deal vote on March 13.
Now that the UK has time before it needs to exit the EU, a early general election is certainly on the table.
The UK can also hold a new referendum allowing the public to reverse its previous decision to leave the EU. However, this is a complex process.
A simpler option for MPs would be to renegotiate an entirely new deal or to lobby a majority for existing ones and vote to pass those.
Prime Minister May has not yet announced her next steps.
Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius.
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