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When will we know if we're getting a Brexit extension?

A UK election could fast-track the EU’s decision on whether to grant an extension – but for how long will it be?

Image: Matt Dunham

WHAT ARE WE waiting for?

As it stands, a Brexit deal has been agreed between the EU and UK at official level. That deal has to pass through both parliaments – the UK’s House of Commons and the European Parliament – before it can be enacted. 

We have had several votes on a version of the Withdrawal Agreement in the past year, as well as indicative votes to narrow down what parliament wants – all leading to a dead-end result.

So although a Brexit deal has been struck between the EU and UK, until it passes through the House of Commons it counts for naught. 

As it stands, the current Brexit deadline is Thursday, 31 October. If there is no extension, and as it’s incredibly unlikely that a deal will be passed in the House of Commons, a no-deal Brexit next Thursday is the current position.

Extension Rebellion 

However – it’s very likely that the EU will grant an extension.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil on Wednesday that a meeting of the European Council could be called “possibly next Monday, maybe even on Friday (today)” if unanimity wasn’t reached.

Varadkar also repeated the government’s position, that it would support the UK’s request for an extension in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit “by consequence or by accident”. 

If all 27 EU leaders agree that an extension should be granted, and agree to the length and nature of the extension, then it can be granted in written form without a summit. If there isn’t unanimity, an EU Council summit will have to be called to iron out a position.

“Essentially what Tusk is doing is ringing heads of government and asking their views on it. If there is consensus we can do this by written procedure,” Varadkar explained to the Dáil. 

The EU has said that it would grant an extension if it was requested for a good reason – after the previous extension was granted, it gave room for a Tory leadership contest to take place. Another extension of the Brexit timeline could be granted by the EU so that the UK could hold a general election, a second referendum, or reverse the whole Brexit process entirely by revoking Article 50, which it can do unilaterally.

A UK election

Last night, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that if parliament wants time to scrutinise his Brexit legislation, it would get it, but in exchange he wants a general election on 12 December.

“It is our duty to end this nightmare and provide the country with a solution as soon as we reasonably can,” he wrote.

It comes after MPs voted to back a process of scrutinising the legislation implementing the new withdrawal deal on Tuesday night, but then voted down the government’s timetable to ram that legislation through by the end of the week.

Johnson then told the Commons he would be “pausing” the legislation for the moment, having earlier threatened to immediately go for an election if things didn’t go his way on the truncated timetable vote.

This meant that there was support for Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, but not for his timeframe for turning it into British law.

So now, instead of proposing another schedule to pass his deal, Johnson has said that he will table a motion on Monday to call for a general election. If two-thirds of MPs vote for it (the magic number is 434) then we get a general election on 12 December.

If Labour agree to back his call for an election – but Labour will want to see the EU grant an extension before they do so.

The question is for how long. Johnson wrote in his letter that he would prefer a short extension until the 15 or 30 November. The date contained in the legislation that compelled him to request an extension was 31 January 2020.

“The UK has formally applied for an extension until the end of January, although the Prime Minister is keen to leave at the end of October,” Varadkar said on Wednesday.

“As of yet, there is no extension agreed.

Brexit will go on for a very long time… assuming we get through this phase.

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