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What next? Brexit delay gives UK more time to solve crisis

March 22, 2019
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European flags and a British Union flag placed by anti-Brexit remain in the European Union supporters are blown by the wind across the street from the Houses of Parliament, not pictured, backdropped by Westminster Abbey in London, Monday, March 18, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May was making a last-minute push Monday to win support for her European Union divorce deal, warning opponents that failure to approve it would mean a long — and possibly indefinite — delay to Brexit. Parliament has rejected the agreement twice, but May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Extra time has been added to the Brexit countdown clock. The European Union has granted Britain a few more weeks to overcome its political deadlock and chart a smooth road out of the bloc — or change its mind and seek a much longer delay.

Here’s a look at what might happen next:

DEAL OR NO DEAL

With Brexit due in little over a week, British Prime Minister Theresa May came to Brussels seeking a three-month delay so she could salvage her twice-rejected EU divorce deal. Instead, the 27 other EU leaders offered a two-stage “flextension.” If U.K. lawmakers approve the divorce deal agreed between Britain and the bloc, Britain will leave on May 22.

If they defeat it, Britain has until April 12 to tell the EU what it plans to do next: leave without a deal, risking economic chaos, or seek a long delay to Brexit and chart a course toward a softer exit or even remaining in the bloc.

EUROPEAN ELECTIONS

The key factor in the EU’s decision is the election for the European Parliament due to be held May 23-26.

The bloc is adamant Britain must not take part if it is leaving — hence the May 22 cutoff date.

April 12 is the deadline for candidates to be enrolled, so the U.K. must decide before then if it is putting its departure on longer hold, in which case it would participate in the elections.

PARLIAMENTARY BATTLE

The battle now shifts back to the British Parliament, which is split down the middle between supporters and opponents of Brexit.

Both sides voted in large numbers, twice, to reject May’s Brexit deal. But May plans to try again next week.

She hopes to persuade reluctant pro-Brexit lawmakers that backing her deal is their only hope of leaving soon and in an orderly fashion, and to convince pro-EU legislators that they must choose between her deal and a chaotic no-deal Brexit.

May’s plan was complicated last week when the speaker of the House of Commons said the prime minister couldn’t seek a third vote on her twice-defeated divorce deal unless it was substantially altered.

May is likely to argue that the EU’s extension means circumstances have changed and that ruling should no longer apply.

If Parliament approves her Brexit deal, May plans to use the delay until May 22 to pass the legislation necessary for Britain’s orderly departure from the EU.

OTHER OPTIONS

There is little evidence yet that lawmakers’ opinion has shifted strongly in favor of May’s deal.

Anti-EU supporters of “hard Brexit” still believe that rejecting it can lead to a no-deal departure from the bloc as soon as April 12.

The Brexiteers are in a minority, but form a powerful bloc in May’s Conservative Party. A larger group in Parliament, from a range of parties, favors a compromise Brexit in which the U.K. keeps close economic ties with the bloc.

These pro-EU lawmakers will try to push through a plan next week that would give members of Parliament control of the House of Commons timetable in order to hold a series of votes on alternative forms of Brexit, to see if there is a majority for any of them.

Proposals could include seeking closer ties with the bloc than May’s deal envisages, or putting the Brexit deal to a public vote.

THE END OF MAY?

May has spent almost three years trying to shepherd Britain out of the EU, and strongly opposes a long delay or a reversal of Brexit. She has hinted she could quit if Parliament forces one of those options on her.

Many on both sides of Britain’s Brexit divide would be happy to see her go, but her replacement by a new Conservative leader would not solve the country’s political crisis.

Opposition politicians think the only way forward is an early election that could rearrange Parliament and break the political deadlock. May has ruled that out, but could come to see it as her only option.

And anti-Brexit campaigners haven’t abandoned the idea of a new referendum on remaining in the EU. There’s currently no majority for that in Parliament, but the political calculus could change if the paralysis drags on.

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