The deadline for Britain to leave the EU has been extended until January 31st, or earlier if the Westminster parliament passes legislation to implement the Withdrawal Agreement.
The ‘flextension’ was approved by the European Council this morning in recognition of the likelihood of a British general election in the coming weeks. The extension allows Britain to leave before the deadline, on December 1 or January 1.
The extension has been granted just three days before Britain was due to crash out of the EU on October 31st, a logistical disaster which would have seen a rapid return of a hard border in the north of Ireland. It was announced this morning by EU Council President Donald Tusk (pictured).
The extension had to be legally forced on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He had said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit after he lost his majority in parliament.
The move came ahead of crucial votes in the House of Commons today on proposals from Johnson’s government and opposition Liberal Democrats to call a general election in December.
The British Labour Party, whose vote should be crucial to the Tory motion, has said it has been waiting until the EU spelled out the precise duration of any extension before supporting an election. However, that stance looked set to be bypassed in any event after the Tories won the support of other opposition parties for an amendment to alter the current legislation.
In Ireland, there are fears that a newly elected British Prime Minister may once again attempt to seek further concessions. In a renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement earlier this month, the EU controversially agreed to a demand by Johnson to drop the ‘backstop’ guarantee intended to prevent a remilitarised border in Ireland.
Thursday, December 12 or Monday, December 9 are the dates which have been pencilled in for an election. If approved, it will also see contests in the 18 Westminster constituencies in the north of Ireland.
So far, no elections pacts have been agreed among the parties in the Six Counties or in Britain, despite the election representing a virtual referendum on Brexit.
Irish Nationalists and republicans have been strongly urged to register their Westminster vote by visiting https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote