European leaders have agreed for a third time to extend Britain’s departure date from the single market after U.K. Members of Parliament once again thwarted the Prime Minister’s “do or die” pledge to leave by Oct. 31.
Under the European Union’s “flextension,” the United Kingdom now has until Jan. 31, 2020, to approve a withdrawal agreement, though it can leave earlier if MPs back a deal before then. In a tweet, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said “the decision is expected to be formalised through a written procedure.”
The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK's request for a #Brexit flextension until 31 January 2020. The decision is expected to be formalised through a written procedure.— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) October 28, 2019
British PM Boris Johnson, who infamously said he would rather “die in a ditch” than delay Brexit, was forced on Oct. 19—by law—to seek an extension after losing a key vote in Parliament.
The so-called Letwin Amendment, named after the Tory MP whom Johnson sacked from the party for disloyalty, prevented the government from the possibility of deliberately letting any deal signed with the European Union before Oct. 31 subsequently flounder if/when the legislation underpinning it failed to attract enough support among MPs, thereby allowing a no-deal Brexit to occur.
Since then, Johnson has faced mixed success. On Oct. 22, he won his first Commons vote as Prime Minister for the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill to get a second reading in Parliament but lost the subsequent vote the same day that set out a three-day timetable for the bill to pass into law. MPs said they wanted more time to scrutinize the planned legislation and its impact.
While Johnson’s deal has its supporters, business views about its content have been decidedly mixed. The U.K.’s biggest business lobby group, the Confederation of British Industry, welcomes an EU-U.K. trade agreement but is lukewarm about Johnson’s efforts and the direction of any future trading relationship with the continent. It also believes the current Withdrawal Agreement “remains inadequate on services, which make up 80 percent of the UK economy.”
Meanwhile, the Trades Union Congress, the country’s biggest labor organization, is scathing about the PM’s achievements (or lack thereof). It has said Johnson has “negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May”, deriding it as “a disaster for working people” that would “hammer the economy, cost jobs and sell workers’ rights down the river.” It urges all MPs to vote against it.
Expect Johnson to call for general election
Now that an extension has been granted and the prospect of a no-deal Brexit postponed (the possibility still remains, however), Johnson is likely to ask MPs to back his call for a general election in early or mid-December. The Prime Minister hopes by going to the polls he can gain a majority to give him a stronger pro-Brexit mandate that does not rely on support from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (which opposes the current deal because it sets Ulster apart from the rest of the United Kingdom in terms of customs and trade).
Key European figures are sanguine about how much progress the U.K. government might make in the next three months in convincing MPs—as well as the public—to get behind the latest version of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, tweeted: “Relieved that finally no one died in a ditch. Whether the U.K.’s democratic choice is revoke or an orderly withdraw, confirmed or not in a second referendum, the uncertainty of Brexit has gone on for far too long. This extra time must deliver a way forward.”