Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
16 January 2019updated 23 Jul 2021 1:47pm

Can the government delay Brexit by extending Article 50?

It is possible for the UK to delay its 29 March Brexit deadline, but only with agreement from every EU member state.

By Anoosh Chakelian

The government can extend Article 50 – which means delaying the day Britain leaves the European Union beyond 29 March 2019. But even if there were a parliamentary majority for this, it’s not within MPs’ remit to unilaterally extend it. EU states have to unanimously agree to extending it.

So far, the government’s line has been against extending Article 50, with Theresa May repeatedly promising that the UK will leave the EU on 29 March. But following her deal’s defeat, she hasn’t ruled out an extension – with the Guardian noting that she appears to have softened her opposition to it somewhat, instead stating that the EU would extend Article 50 only if there were a plan moving towards a deal.

It’s been reported that the EU is willing to allow a short extension, but anything beyond July 2019 would be extremely tricky, as that’s when the new MEPs take their seats following the European Parliament elections in May – putting the UK’s role into question. How could it remain a member state without elected representatives? Some solutions have been mooted to this, but they each have their difficulties and EU members would have to unanimously agree.

It’s thought the EU would only be willing to grant a longer extension beyond July if it were for the sake of making time for a general election or a second referendum – rather than simply letting discussions carry on or as a time-buying exercise.

In the scenario of a general election or referendum, the UK would have to write to the EU requesting an Article 50 extension, all member states would have to agree, and then the UK government would need to pass legislation to change the EU Withdrawal Act, in which the 29 March date is enshrined in law.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

So it’s certainly possible, but the political reality is that the UK would need to have a plausible plan on the horizon, or an election or referendum to justify the extra time.

Content from our partners
Harnessing breakthrough thinking
Are we there yet with electric cars? The EV story – with Wejo
Sherif Tawfik: The Middle East and Africa are ready to lead on the climate

Topics in this article :