The UK cannot extend Article 50 beyond the end of May unless the UK agrees to hold elections for the European Parliament, according to a legal opinion issued by the German parliament, the Bundestag, late last week.
Recently, British Prime Minister Theresa May offered UK parliamentarians a short delay of Article 50 – a provision within the constitutional basis of the European Union that allows any of its members to unilaterally quit the bloc – if the Withdrawal Agreement between London and Brussels fails to pass through the parliament.
The House of Commons is due to, once again, vote again on the Withdrawal Agreement on March 12. If, as expected, the vote fails, the members of parliament will follow through with a vote to delay Article 50 on March 13.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is willing to back a delay, but the Bundestag’s legal opinion limits her scope to manoeuvre. The legal opinion of the German parliament is that if the UK fails to organise elections by May 25-26, it would not only violate the rights of UK citizens, but also EU citizens residing in the UK.
The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on March 1 that any delay to the UK’s exit from the EU “must not put off the problem, but resolve the issues at hand.”
During his recent visit to Austria, Bernier reiterated that the EU did not intend to reopen negotiations on the so-called ‘Irish backstop’, one of the key sticking points in the Brexit negotiations. The backstop is an insurance policy to ensure there is no hard border in Ireland once the United Kingdom officially withdraws from the EU.
In an interview with Die Welt published on March 2, Barnier made clear that Brussels is ready to offer “further guarantees, assurances, and clarifications that the backstop should only be temporary.”
Reaching a compromise with the European Commission is becoming increasingly unlikely. According to the Sunday Times, May’s hardline pro-Brexiters have demanded that the prime minister secure an amendment of the Withdrawal Agreement that will legally bind any treaty-level change, move away from the reinterpretation of the withdrawal agreement to a new commitment, and provide a clear exit route of the EU.