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To my understanding, the lawful government of the United Kingdom has decided, following due process, that:

  • The United Kingdom shall leave the European Union at a set date (currently 29 Mar 2019)
  • The United Kingdom shall not accept the deal negotiated with EU27
  • The United Kingdom shall not leave the European Union without a deal

Given that, what happens when the set date arrives (whether that is 29 Mar, or an extension is applied for and granted)?

Can EU27 simply assume that "Since your Parliament ruled out both the negotiated deal and a hard Brexit, we assume that all treaties are still valid."?

Can EU27 simply assume that "Since you did trigger Article 50 and declined the negotiated deal, we (regretfully) assume that all treaties now are void"?

EU27 are supposed to honor the decisions of UK's legal government, but what are the options if the stance of that government is literally "we cannot decide"?

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    Comments deleted. Please don't post comments which do not aim to improve the question. For more information on what comments should and should not be used for, see the help article on the commenting privilege. – Philipp Mar 15 at 9:10
  • @Philipp Should this have the "rapidly changing" banner? – wizzwizz4 2 days ago
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The United Kingdom shall not leave the European Union without a deal

That is not a legal decision. This is just a wish that Parliament has expressed.

If nothing else changes, as things currently stand¹ (2019-03-15T10:32Z) the UK Parliament has instructed the government to apply for an extension. If the UK government applies for an extension and the EU member states unanimously approve this, Brexit will be postponed. If not, the UK will leave the the EU without any agreement on 29 March, even against the wishes of Parliament. To change this, the UK must either:

  • Unilaterally withdraw article 50 and cancel Brexit;
  • apply for an extension (as Parliament has approved a Government motion to do so, this is now almost certain to happen), which must be approved by the EU and its member states (which we will know next week). There are reports the EU is unhappy about any extension beyond the elections in which the UK does not take part, because the UK could revoke Article 50 after not taking part in those elections but still being in the EU, which would leave the EU in a legally unclear situation; therefore it is not a give the EU will accept an extension request;
  • or accept the Withdrawal Agreement.

In practice, even if the UK Parliament still approves the Withdrawal Agreement, a short extension for which the UK will apply will be necessary, to implement necessary legislation on both sides.


¹The situation is rapidly changing.

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    This is correct; the UK "made the decision" to leave the EU without a deal when it sent the Article 50 notification. Until it rescinds that, it stands. – pjc50 Mar 14 at 9:32
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    Note that if the WA is agreed by Parliament, there will probably need to be a short extension anyway in order to enact all the (UK) legislation necessary to implement it. – Steve Melnikoff Mar 14 at 9:46
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    @SteveMelnikoff I would expect such a purely pragmatic extension to be mostly uncontroversial (unless a "we still don't know what we want" extension). – gerrit Mar 14 at 9:48
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    @gerrit: agreed. The EU have indicated that any extension needs to have a purpose; and this would certainly count, especially since the EU much prefers the WA to no deal. – Steve Melnikoff Mar 14 at 9:50
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    @KyleWardle [...] an Article 50 notification may be revoked unilaterally by the notifying member without the permission of the other EU members, provided the state has not already left the EU, and provided the revocation is decided “following a democratic process in accordance with national constitutional requirements”. -- that decision by the ECJ is what we got. – Yakk Mar 14 at 18:58
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The EU isn't going to assume anything.

Article 50 is a formal process, triggered by the UK. If the UK neither accepts the deal, nor asks and get granted an extension, nor withdraws its intention to leave the EU, the UK will leave the EU, 00:00 March 30, 2019 (Brussels time). That's what the Article 50 procedure mean.

Everything between the EU and the UK follows a set procedure, and it's (mostly) the UK who determines which direction it goes:

  1. The UK accepts the deal. Then the UK leaves the EU on 2019-03-30 00:00 with a deal. Else,
  2. The UK withdraws its intention to leave the EU. Then the UK stays in the EU. Else,
  3. The UK asks for an extension, and the EU grants that extension. Then we go back to point 1, but with a different date. Else,
  4. The UK leaves the EU on 2019-03-30 00:00 with no deal.

No assumptions by the EU.

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    The question at hand here is who "The UK" actually is, when neither government or parliament can agree on a position. Imagine EU27 simply stating "We negotiated with your head of government and reached a deal. We will honour our part and expect the UK to do the same." – Guran Mar 14 at 11:41
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    @Jontia That's London time. Which is why explicitly mentioned Brussels time. – Abigail Mar 14 at 11:45
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    @Guran Part of the deal is that it needs to be ratified by parliament. Make treaties/deals/laws which need to be ratified by the national parliaments is on par for the EU. – Abigail Mar 14 at 11:47
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    @ouflak Doesn't that automatically follow from the "else" part on point 3? Point 3 says "The UK asks for an extension and the EU grants that extension". If either the UK does not ask for an extension, or the EU doesn't grant one, we fall through to option 4, which is "the UK leaves with no deal". – Abigail Mar 14 at 16:11
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    @ouflak The use of "else" in each of the other points implies that point 4 happen if none of the conditions of the other point happen. Not seeking an extension or seeking an extension and not getting it are the same. – Abigail Mar 14 at 16:19
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The EU can't force the UK to stay. The UK can unilaterally withdraw from the treaties that make it part of the EU. The EU continuing to act as if the UK had not withdrawn would be pointless and detrimental to the EU, as the UK would not be obliged to follow any of the rules any more and thus have a huge trade advantage.

The UK could ask for an extension to the Article 50 process, which the EU could accept or deny.

The UK could unilaterally cancel brexit by withdrawing its Article 50 notification. EU courts have ruled that this is possible if done in good faith.

If the UK simply fails to make any decision then it will crash out of the EU on March 29th and there is little that the EU can actually do about it.

  • The EU certainly cannot force the UK to stay. It could however, in theory, unilaterally decide to act as if the UK was still part of the union until the UK does something that would blatantly break the treaties (had they still been in effect). Granted, this would break a few WTO rules, but... – Guran Mar 14 at 13:16
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    @Guran The EU is a bit more than just a bunch of countries who use treaties for some casual interaction. How should the European Parliament, the European Commission or any of the other myriad of organizations do their daily job "acting as if the UK never left"? – Abigail Mar 14 at 13:45
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    @Guran what possible benefit would this have for the EU? – user Mar 14 at 13:59
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    @Guran but surely if the UK did leave without a deal it would immediately start doing deals with other countries, and has in fact already announced a new tariff schedule, all things that would start damaging the EU. In fact merely weakening the fixed requirements of being in the single market would immediately damage the EU. Remember that the single market is nearly 7 times as big as the UK market. – user Mar 14 at 14:53
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    We will not 'crash' out of the EU. Other than that, +1. – ouflak Mar 14 at 15:59
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We cannot know

Brexit or not is determined by EU law and politics and by UK law and politics at the same time.

EU Law

The European Court of Justice has ruled

The revocation must be decided following a democratic process in accordance with national constitutional requirements. This unequivocal and unconditional decision must be communicated in writing to the European Council.

Such a revocation confirms the EU membership of the Member State concerned under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a Member State and brings the withdrawal procedure to an end.

UK Law

Parliament is sovereign, and it cannot constrain its future actions.

  • The United Kingdom shall leave the European Union at a set date (currently 29 Mar 2019)
  • The United Kingdom shall not accept the deal negotiated with EU27
  • The United Kingdom shall not leave the European Union without a deal

These are in order. If later actions by Parliament conflict with earlier ones, the later actions win.

So currently, Parliament has stated "the UK shall not leave the EU without a deal". Any act of Parliament prior to that doesn't contradict it; it contradicts any earlier act.

On the other hand, Parliament has arguably not made an unequivocal and unconditional decision and communicated it to the European Council in writing (that last part is easy; someone can print out the bill and literally walk it over; the first part, less so).

The decision that the UK Parliament made is conditional (on no deal being made), or at least equivocal in its conditionalness.

Or, arguably, the UK has through its democratic process, in accordance with national constitutional requirements, now stated that at the end of March it will have withdrawn from Article 50 if there was no deal in place or extension; at that point, there is remaining condition, and "we won't leave the EU without a deal" is unequivocal.

The meaning of this action could even be decided retroactively: Imagine the day after Brexit, everyone proceeds as if it was a hard Brexit. Borders clank shut, etc.

That very day, Theresa May loses the confidence of the House, she gets replaced by someone whose position is that UK never left the EU due to this resolution, and they convince the ECJ to agree with them.

Or the exact same narrative can occur, except the ECJ could say "no, that isn't how it works, please apply for membership again".


There is no clear answer. This is the realm of politics, optics, and law without precedent.

Words on TV by politicians or pundits could fundamentally change what this action means, long after the action's meaning has seemingly settled.

Enough people state "it is non binding", and that actually makes it less binding. Enough people state "it is binding, Theresa May can no longer legally leave the EU without a deal", and that actually makes it more binding. Because popular interpretation of what was done can sway what it means.

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    Only the first of your list is a law, the second is an instruction to the Government and the third is an opinion expressed by the House of Commons. As things stand, we haven't got an extension as of time of writing, the only legal option is to leave on the 29th with no deal. – JGNI Mar 15 at 12:18
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    Unfortunately the misconstruing of indicative votes in Parliament as legally binding results in this answer being wrong. – Andrew Leach Mar 15 at 22:12
  • The 'Parliament' in the British doctrine that 'Parliament is sovereign', is made up of three parts - the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the Monarch. It's sovereignty is only expressed when these three act together, producing an 'act of parliament'. None of the three points listed were decided in acts of parliament, although parliament did pass an act in 2017 which said that "The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom's intention to withdraw from the EU." legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/9/pdfs/ukpga_20170009_en.pdf – bdsl 2 days ago

protected by JJJ 2 days ago

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