Brexit – what happens now?

April 12 – a week tomorrow – is now 'the new March 29’, with the UK set to leave the EU with no deal on that day if no alternative route is agreed in the next few days.

With UK Prime Minster Theresa May and Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn trying to find a way out of the Brexit impasse together, and France continuing to get ready for the possibility of a no-deal after which Britons would have to apply for non-EU citizen residency cards,  it is worth recapping what Brexit options the UK faces now.

When the EU leaders agreed to put off Brexit beyond the original March 29 deadline they said that the British MPs should agree to the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement (WA) before March 29 if they wished to avoid a no-deal Brexit (leaving with no legal agreement or future relationship plan and no transition period) on April 12.

They said that the WA itself (on citizens' rights, money and the Northern Ireland border) was not renegotiable but there was leeway to change the political declaration (PD) on the future relationship, for example to choose a softer kind of Brexit with a closer UK/EU relationship.

If that happened, the leaders said, Brexit could be put off until May 22 to give some time for the UK to make final preparations. This date was chosen to ensure that the UK had left before EU Parliament elections, as it will mean extra complications if the UK is still an EU member then but has not decided to stay in the long-term.

In this case (assuming that the WA and PD were fully signed off before the new exit date by the UK Parliament and European Parliament allowing a Brexit with 'a deal') then the UK would leave on May 22 and the future relationship would then be fleshed out in more talks during a transition period until the end of 2020. During the transition the rights of Britons in France (other than on EU election voting) would not change.

The EU said that if the British MPs did not vote for the WA by March 29 then to avoid no-deal the UK government must present the EU leaders with an alternative ‘way forward’ in order to obtain a long Brexit extension; likely to be until the end of the year or more.

The MPs did not vote for the WA by March 29. Now Mrs May is looking to find a way forward with a different PD via talks with Mr Corbyn. She says she wants an extension until May 22.

Yesterday EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that with the March 29 deadline now having passed, the EU is still likely to accept an extension to May 22 if the MPs have agreed to the WA by April 12 at the latest.

“If it has not done so by then, no further short extension will be possible,” he said. “After 12 April, we risk jeopardising the European Parliament elections, and so threaten the functioning of the European Union.”

However he said the EU would not “kick out” the UK, which has been interpreted as a reference to the fact it is still open to a long extension, possibly until March 2020.

He called on British politicians to come together over the PD, saying options might include anything from a free trade agreement to customs arrangements, a customs union or membership of the European Economic Area (full single market membership including free movement – with no need for residency cards for Britons in France).

The British MPs voted yesterday against holding more ‘indicative votes’ on possible Brexit options on Monday, after their previous two attempts resulted in no clear vote for any alternative. They also voted to tell the Prime Minister to seek an extension and not to accept the UK leaving with no deal.

With the proviso that any extension beyond April 12 still needs unanimous agreement from the 27 other EU leaders and is not guaranteed, some possible Brexit alternatives remaining at this stage include:

  • The MPs agree to a combination of the WA and a new PD plan decided on by Mrs May and Mr Corbyn. This is presented to the EU Council (including heads of the other 27 states) when they hold an emergency summit on Wednesday next week, April 10. This is accepted and they give an extension to May 22 to allow the UK to finalise preparations to leave. The UK leaves with a transition period and negotiations start on the future relationship treaty on trade, defence and security cooperation etc.
  • The MPs do not agree on anything and the UK leaves with no deal on April 12
  • The WA is not agreed by the MPs but Mrs May returns to the EU council with another plan such as holding a referendum. The EU Council agrees to a long extension to allow for this.
  • The UK revokes article 50, cancelling Brexit before the exit deadline (which the European Court of Justice has said it has the right to do). The UK stays in the EU under its current terms.

Previous articles

Decree sets out no-deal rules for Britons in France

What would a no-deal mean for Britons in France?

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