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‘Trick or treat’? Brexit rolls on to new Halloween deadline

Relief mixed with ennui as the European Council and the Theresa May government on Wednesday night agreed a new extension to the Brexit deadline of October 31, by when the UK parliament is expected to endorse the withdrawal agreement, or find a new course.

world Updated: Apr 11, 2019 17:16 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
World news,Brexit,UK Parliament
Pedestrians walk past placards featuring Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn near the Houses of Parliament in central London on April 3, 2019.(AFP file photo)

Relief mixed with ennui as the European Council and the Theresa May government on Wednesday night agreed a new extension to the Brexit deadline of October 31, by when the UK parliament is expected to endorse the withdrawal agreement, or find a new course.

The extension will most likely involve the UK participating in the May 23 elections to the European Parliament, a prospect May and aides want to avoid, but others believe will be an opportunity to gauge if public opinion has shifted from the 2016 referendum.

As tabloids and others played on the fact that the October 31 deadline coincides with Halloween and its custom of ‘trick or treat’, May reiterated her hope that parliament will endorse the agreement soon to avoid joining the May 23 elections.

She said after the council meet: “I know that there is huge frustration from many people that I had to request this extension. The UK should have left the EU by now and I sincerely regret the fact that I have not yet been able to persuade Parliament to approve a deal which would allow the UK to leave in a smooth and orderly way”.

“I do not pretend the next few weeks will be easy or that there is a simple way to break the deadlock in Parliament. But we have a duty as politicians to find a way to fulfil the democratic decision of the Referendum, deliver Brexit and move our country forward”.

The new deadline avoids the prospect of the UK leaving with the EU on Friday without an agreement – the worst-case scenario – which is welcomed by business, but intractable issues remain before any compromise can be reached between the government, its allies and critics.

May is also facing growing demands from within the party that she step down to allow a new leader to carry forward the Brexit talks. Under party rules, she will not face another confidence vote until December, but critics say she should resign on her own.

Former Brexit secretary and senior Conservative leader David Davis told BBC: “The pressure on her to go will increase dramatically, I suspect now. Whether it comes to anything, who knows? The rules are the rules. There will be pressure on her to go, there will a new leader and then a reset in the negotiations.”

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, who is a key figure in compromise talks with the May government, welcomed the extension, but added: “Negotiations are in good faith. We all feel a deep sense of duty to break the impasse”.

“But there’s also this question of how on Earth do we ensure that anything this prime minister promises is actually delivered in the future because of course she’s already said she’s going to step down, probably within months.”

Votaries of a second referendum to resolve the impasse say there is enough time until October 31 to hold one.

Tom Brake, Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesman, said: “The British people have been given a lifeline. The Conservatives have dragged the country into chaos, but the extension agreed offers a route out from the Brexit mess they have created”.

“A flexible extension until October 31 is long enough to hold a people’s vote. The prime minister must now show leadership by handing the decision back to the British public. It is long overdue that Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn abandon their party political games, stop wasting time, and give the people the final say with an option to stay in the EU.”

Also read | Merkel open to giving Britain more time to exit European Union

First Published: Apr 11, 2019 17:16 IST