A spokesman for British prime minister Theresa May has confirmed on Tuesday, March 19th, that May will now formally request a delay to Brexit, a request that is likely to further put to the test the relationship between the UK and the European Union.
In light of recent events, it was speculated that May would ask for a longer extension than she had previously planned. Originally, May had scheduled to bring back her Brexit deal for a third vote in parliament towards the end of the week. Following that, it had been thought that May would try to secure a short delay to Brexit at this week’s European Council summit.
But in a further twist to already convoluted Brexit negotiations, on Monday, March 18th, House of Commons speaker, John Bercow, ruled that it was unacceptable to present a motion for another vote, which had already been defeated. Bercow cited a centuries-old convention, and has blocked May from bringing back her deal, unless it was "substantially" different.
May will now “be writing to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, before the European council begins, in relation to an extension,” her spokesman said. He declined to confirm whether the length of the requested extension had been agreed on, according to the Guardian.
Europe meanwhile, is wondering, how an extension of any length would be used? Currently, there is neither a plan for the UK’s exit from the bloc, nor one for how to use the proposed extension. Many have raised the question of why exactly it should be granted, when it seems that very little has been done with the time the UK has already had since the referendum. EU politicians are demanding "clear and precise" Brexit proposals from the UK and Theresa May.
The EU’s Chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said during a press conference on Tuesday, March 19th that May would need to propose “something new” to justify a long article 50 extension. The BBC reported that Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, explained the EU needed to know from May what she wants from an extension.
France's Europe minister, Nathalie Loiseau, echoed the sentiment, saying: "'Grant an extension, ‘what for?' is always the question. Time is not a solution... we need a decision from London."
German chancellor Angela Merkel said she would “fight to the last hour” of the deadline to achieve an orderly Brexit, with the interests of Germany, Britain and the EU being at stake. When asked if she would grant the UK an extension, Merkel replied things were in a state of flux and that EU leaders would “try to react.” She emphasised the wish to keep good relationships with London in the future.
Michael Roth, who is Germany's Europe minister, admitted what seems to be the leading opinion amongst EU ministers, who are currently preparing to meet in Brussels for the European Council summit this week. He said, "Our patience is really being put to the test at the moment and I can only ask our partners in London to finally make a concrete proposal why they are seeking an extension.”