The UK Governement and the House of Commons might think a bit more about the EU side of extension requesting than they have.
Let’s walk through EU side of extension-request-ing.
A reminder: all the EU27 will have to approve any extension to Article 50 beyond 29 March.
Given the gravity of this (plus the uncertainty of what the UK intends by it), that almost certainly needs the Heads of Government-level agreement, logically at the EU Council on 21-22 March.
That, in turn, implies the need for a request from the UK to go in by the end of this week, to allow for domestic consultation, briefing, etc. ahead of an actual decision.
Key questions for the EU27 on this:
- what’s the point of the extension?
- does the time requested match the purpose?
- is there a plan for handling knock-on consequences?
As frequently discussed, extensions to wrap-up the Withdrawal Agreement implementation after a positive Meaningful Vote 2, or to hold a General Election or a People’s Vote would be (probably) fine, as purposeful.
Much less so, if just to say “We’re in a fix and need some weeks to dream up a solution.”
Thus, the UK will have to look (and be, as much as possible in this situation) like there’s a plan, and a good chance of a plan happening.
Also, if the extension pushes up past the European Elections (23-26 May), then some ideas on how to handle (non-)elections in the UK will be useful: EU will be very alive to risk of making subsequent extension more difficult, therefore no-deal becoming more likely.
However, right now, the main consideration for the EU will be to work out what’s actually going on in the House of Commons. The absence of a clear agenda or pathways through and past votes is a major concern.
The desire to help out the UK through local difficulty appears to be waning, with the view that maybe it’s easier just to cut it all off now coming through more often.
Another reminder: Brexit is not high on the EU’s list of Stuff To Deal With, so if closing door on it means being able to focus more on the rest of the list, then that might appeal in some quarters (again, extension of Article 50 needs unanimity).
Right now, extracting a plan from the UK would be top of the list for the EU.
Whatever the future relationship, the EU needs to close off the liabilities dealt with in the Withdrawal Agreement (citizens’ rights, finances, Irish dimension), so that’s the priority right now.
Yes, some Member States might try to play hardball for something else, but there is still enough inertia in the system for them to be knocked back into line by others (that inertia will weaken if more than one extension, by the way...).
Final thought: The EU has accommodated the UK’s process problems at various points, but has always stuck to its underlying interests and the Article 50 procedure, so don’t expect the EU side’s answer to any request to be automatic.🔷
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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article, with the author’s consent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.)