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The EU and UK have agreed a 'flexible' Brexit extension until 31 October

It follows a marathon EU summit in Brussels – just two days before the UK would have crashed out.

THE UK AND EU have agreed a flexible Brexit extension until 31 October following marathon talks in Brussels. 

Theresa May insisted in her post-summit press conference, held shortly before 3am local time, that she would redouble efforts to get the thrice-rejected withdrawal agreement through parliament as soon as possible. 

The British Prime Minister insisted that her “key request” had been granted – the extension could be terminated if the withdrawal deal was passed. 

The overnight deal agreed between May and the 27 leaders from the remaining states means the UK will have to hold elections for the EU Parliament if it wants to avoid another potential cliff edge. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, tweeting after the negotiations ended, noted: “UK to take part in @Europarl_EN election or must leave on June 1st without a deal.”

Cliff edge 

The summit had been scheduled to begin just two days before the UK was due to exit the union without a deal on Friday. 

May had been seeking a much shorter extension, until 30 June, but the majority of leaders from remaining nations wanted a long one of up to a year. European Council President Donald Tusk had mooted the ‘flextension’ option – allowing the UK to exit if the withdrawal deal was passed – as a compromise. 

May made her pitch and answered questions from the other leaders yesterday evening before the remaining heads of government held their own lengthy meeting to discuss their position. 

France’s Emmanuel Macron had been seeking a much shorter extension, and according to reports emerging from the talks believed the UK leaving with no deal would be less of a risk than it remaining on and disrupting the EU’s business from within. 

As the EU 27 discussions went past midnight in Brussels a new deadline of 31 October emerged, with a review to happen in June before the next session of the EU Parliament. 

Breakthrough

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted shortly after 2am Brussels time: “EU27/UK have agreed a flexible extension until 31 October. This means additional six months for the UK to find the best possible solution.”

The nature of what had been agreed was soon clarified: In a press conference Tusk confirmed the UK could still sign off the deal and leave early. 

He also offered this stark warning to politicians in the UK: ”This extension is as flexible as I expected and a little bit shorter than I expected but it’s still enough to find a best possible solution. Please do not waste this time.”

As for that review in June, Tusk said it was so he could inform EU leaders about the Brexit outlook. Speaking alongside him EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said it would be a time to take stock and was not a cliff-edge. 

Tusk stressed that the UK will be treated as a full EU member state and retain all of its rights during the extension period. 

Frustration 

Theresa May said she knew there was “huge frustration from many people that I had to request this extension”. 

“The UK should have left the EU by now and I sincerely regret the fact that I have not yet been able to persuade parliament to approve a deal which would allow the UK to leave in a smooth and orderly way.”

She added: “The choices we now face are stark and the timetable is clear. We must now press on at pace with our efforts to reach a consensus on a deal that is in the national interest.”

She said she would give an update to the Commons later today and that talks between Downing Street and the Labour leadership would continue. 

“I do not pretend the next few weeks will be easy, or there is a simple way to break the deadlock in parliament but we have a duty as politicians to find a way to fulfill the democratic decision of the referendum, deliver Brexit, and move our country forward. Nothing is more pressing or more vital.”

She said the UK might still manage an orderly departure by 22 May, before the EU elections. 

“What this extension enables us to do is to go through the process we’ve set up,” May said. “If we’re able to do that before May 22, then we won’t have to hold European Parliamentary Elections.”

Meanwhile Tory backbenchers also met on Thursday night. It’s safe to say we can expect speculation about May’s expected departure date to dominate the political agenda in London today. 

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About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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