James Forsyth

Would the EU reject an Article 50 extension request?

Would the EU reject an Article 50 extension request?
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Any extension to the Article 50 process would have to be unanimously agreed by the EU 27. This has led to some speculation that there might be a veto. But this strikes me as highly unlikely. One of the EU’s priorities in this negotiation has been to try and avoid blame, which explains Michel Barnier’s cack handed social media diplomacy. Rejecting a UK request to extend Article 50 would turn that approach on its head. It is also worth remembering that the EU is far from perfectly prepared for a no deal exit—what to do about the Irish border being the most glaring example of this—and if the EU forced that outcome its leaders would then be held responsible by their electorates for what happened next.

A government analysis commissioned ahead of Thursday’s EU Council concludes that it is ‘highly unlikely that the European Council would reject a UK request for an extension’. As it points out, the ‘EU has little to gain and much to lose by rejecting a request from the UK’ that would accept the need to hold European Parliament elections and to resolve this impasse domestically, rather than through trying to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.

The upshot of all this is that those Brexiteers hoping that the EU will deliver a no-deal Brexit on the 29th of March are going to be disappointed. Given what happened in parliament last week and the balance within the government, the choice is going to be between Theresa May’s deal passing and only a short, technical extension being required; and the deal failing, with the EU insisting on a lengthy extension and UK participation in the European Parliament elections.