Now that Parliament has backed an extension to the Brexit process, the ball is effectively in the EU’s court. Whether her Brexit deal passes or not, Theresa May will head off to the European Council next week with a demand to delay the UK’s withdrawal, which is still scheduled for 29 March. In the last few weeks, officials from the European Commission and the European Parliament have been very vocal about their reluctance to extend Article 50 unless there is clarity about what the purpose of the extension would be. But ultimately, EU institutions do not have the final say on this matter. And if it comes to a point where it is either delay or no deal, they would not want to be seen as forcibly expelling a member state.
The proposal to extend needs to be agreed unanimously by the heads of government and state of all EU27 member states. If the deal passes next week, there would be no problem with a short ‘technical’ extension. The issue is what happens if the deal is rejected once again. Then the member states need to come to a consensus. This shouldn’t be a problem. Open Europe’s analysis of each of the EU27’s positions shows that there has been no opposition to accepting the UK’s request for an extension. After all, as with the EU itself, no member state wants to bear the responsibility of no deal and the fallout that would come with it. This includes Belgium’s prime minister Charles Michel and Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaitė, who had previously suggested a no-deal Brexit could be better than continued uncertainty. This is also the case for the governments of Poland, Italy, and Hungary – despite reports that Eurosceptic British MEPs have been asking them to veto the request. In fact, judging by the statements of these countries’ officials, they are among the least likely to be opposed, given their concerns about no deal.
For most leaders, the crucial condition remains the certainty that a delay will actually help the withdrawal agreement get ratified by Westminster.