Brexit on Hold

The United Kingdom could remain in the European Union until at least the end of October after EU leaders agreed to grant a six month extension. But, as always with Brexit, nothing remains clear.

Theresa May went to the European summit in Brussels to ask for a short deadline until the end of June. She was received politely and even shared a joke with Angela Merkel, but was required to leave the room as the other leaders went into a marathon six-hour meeting to agree the extension period.The majority of leaders favoured a longer extension, even lasting up to a year, but France’s Emmanuel Macron held out for a much shorter period, earning criticism in the UK and Europe.

Macron’s main fear is that, if the UK participates in the EU elections on the 23rd -26th of this month, it may return several populist eurosceptic MEPS, who are likely to support Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party. Of all European leaders, Macron is the one most threatened by the far right, and he was keen to show his supporters that he could talk tough.

Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, did not back Macron’s hard line, but had some tough words to say about the British referendum campaign, which he claimed was “based on lies”. His comments, nevertheless, seemed to be aimed more at his opponents in Spain’s April 28th general election than the UK.

Eventually, the leaders compromised and offered a flexible extension until the end of October, with the option that the UK could leave earlier if Mrs May manages to gain parliamentary support for her withdrawal agreement. Read more...

What Next
After Theresa May announced the flextension to parliament, British MPs took a well-earned Easter break – but few will have forgotten that the Brexit clock is still ticking.

On returning to parliament, MPS will have one month to pass a withdrawal agreement, which would avoid British voters having to take part in the EU elections, which start on May 23rd. Theresa May is still hopeful that the deal will finally be approved by Brexiters within her own party, but her failure to find common ground with the leader of the opposition. Jeremy Corbyn, leaves her with the tough task of winning over her own hardliners as well as the DUP.

If those elections take place, 73 British candidates will take their seats in the EU parliament on the 2nd July. Among them are likely to be Nigel Farage and members of his new Brexit party; as well as members of UKIP. British Remain parties such as the Greens. Lib Dems and Change UK are also hoping for a strong turnout, while Labour are currently leading in most polls. The Conservatives are likely to face a thrashing – one of the reasons May wishes to avoid the elections.

May’s future is also highly doubtful. After initially pledging that she would not stay beyond the 30th June, she seems to have reconsidered. Many Conservatives are furious with their leader, who has failed to deliver Brexit, but they lack the means to get rid of her.

May could stand down, probably in late May, which would trigger a Conservative leadership contest and probably a General Election in August. After that, what happens is anyone’s guess.

Remain campaigners who are calling for a second, confirmatory referendum, will also have to work fast. Such a referendum would need to be approved by parliament by mid-May at the latest and, currently, there is no majority for such a measure in parliament.

Expat Advice
The British Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, addressed all UK residents in Spain in an open letter issued on 12th April. He wrote: “ I understand all of this is unsettling and frustrating for many of you. You want to know on what terms we are going to leave the European Union and what that may mean for you as a UK national living in Spain. During this extension period, the UK remains a full member of the EU and consequently your existing rights will not change. So, for example, your rights to healthcare, to residency and to travel throughout the EU, remain exactly as they are today.”

Manley continued: “Nonetheless, during this extension period, as we prepare to leave the European Union, it remains really important to ensure that you are correctly registered.Should we leave the EU with a deal, as we very much hope, you will have until the end of the Implementation Period, currently set at 31 December 2020, to register, if you have not done so already. Should we, however, leave without a deal, as could still happen, the Spanish Government has said you will have a 21-month grace period from the date of our departure to register.”