Brexit postponed: where to with Article 50?

Published on
3 min read

In this briefing we assess where the UK stands after the EU’s decision to grant a limited extension to Article 50.

The EU’s decision: a quick reminder

Following her failure at a second attempt to get Parliamentary approval for the draft EU Withdrawal Agreement, Theresa May requested a limited extension of the Article 50 notice’s expiry date. The UK had been due to leave the EU on 29 March, and she asked for this to be extended until 30 June, the day before the newly elected members of the EU Parliament will take their seats.

In response, the EU Council agreed on 21 March to extend the deadline to 22 May, provided that the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons by 29 March. If this does not happen, then the extension will be limited to 12 April. The logic behind these dates is that 12 April is the deadline for nominating candidates for the EU Parliamentary elections, and 22 May is day before the start of these elections across the EU.

What happens next?

It is still unclear at the time of writing whether the Prime Minister will be able to muster a majority in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement by the 29 March. If she does, then Parliament will have until 22 May to approve the necessary legislation, and assuming that happens we will leave the EU with a deal on that date.

If the 29 March deadline is not met, the Government will have until 12 April to come up with an alternative plan which would convince the EU to grant a further extension. This would probably have to be for a substantially longer period, and if so would have to navigate the difficult question of whether the UK should participate in the EU Parliamentary elections – an unwelcome prospect on both sides in the current circumstances. Failing a further extension (and discounting the unlikely possibility that the Government decides to revoke the Article 50 notice) the UK will leave the EU without a deal on 12 April.

What we do know for sure, however, is that Brexit will not now happen on 29 March. Since this date is specified in the EU Withdrawal Act, the Government has published a statutory instrument which will need to be passed by both Houses of Parliament in order to align this date with the new Brexit timetable.

What if there is a no deal exit?

Both the EU and the UK have accelerated no-deal preparations in recent weeks. Preparations on both sides have concentrated on unilateral preparations to mitigate the worst effects of a no-deal exit.

On the UK side one core provision, which has been in place since last year, is the new framework for our domestic legislation created by the EU Withdrawal Act. As a result, while there will be some gaps, we can at least be sure that the UK will have a functioning statute book and regulatory framework in this eventuality.

It is however clear that a no-deal exit will not end negotiations with the EU about the terms of departure. Far from it. It will result in a further intense round of negotiations to cover off the issues that would have been dealt with in the Withdrawal Agreement, not least over the UK’s divorce bill. However the crucial difference is that there will be no transitional period where the status quo will be preserved, and no prospect of a smooth transition to a new trading relationship with the EU.

Where can I find no-deal guidance?

We have been exploring the impact of a no deal Brexit for the various sectors and practice areas we are involved with for many months. The resulting briefing notes can be found on our Brexit hub.

The Government’s main collection of no deal guidance notes can be found here.

Links to the key EU no deal Brexit guidance notes can be found in this press release, which also explains the rationale for the EU’s decision on the Article 50 extension.

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