Now that the UK Parliament has again rejected the Withdrawal Agreement and reiterated its desire to not leave without a deal, speculation is rife as to whether the UK will apply for an extension to Article 50, on what grounds, and for how long. Such an extension must be approved by the European Union and, if I'm not mistaken, by all member states. Undoubtedly, that approval process itself takes time. Is there any specific deadline on the latest possible date on which the UK can apply for an extension to Article 50?

1 Answer 1


All the articles that I can find discussing the matter state that an extension to Article 50 must be unanimously approved by the 27 member countries, which in practice appears to mean the EU Council or heads of state of each member country.

There is an EU leaders' summit scheduled for 21 to 22 March, during which a formal request for an extension could be made and approved.

Article links BBC and Guardian.

This is based on Section 3 of Article 50.

  1. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

So the deadline appears to be the 20th a March for a decision in the UK Parliament so it can be taken to the EU Leaders' summit on the 21st. There is no requirement for the EU Parliament (MEPs) or EU Commission (President and Commissioners) to approve or mechanism for them to reject the request for an extension.

  • 5
    Article 50 itself specifies that it is the European Council - i.e. heads of government of EU member states - that makes the decision, hence the ability to make the decision quickly with everyone in the room. Mar 14, 2019 at 9:41
  • 4
    @Jontia Heads of State and Heads of Government aren't equivalent terms. In the case of the European Council, it really needs to be "Heads of State or Government", as some countries send one and some countries send the other (e.g. Belgium sends their Head of Government; France sends their Head of State; Cyprus sends their President who, uniquely within the EU, is both.)
    – owjburnham
    Mar 14, 2019 at 10:45
  • @owjburnham Actually, France sometimes sends both.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 25, 2019 at 22:46
  • There is an important difference between “approved by the 27 member countries“ (implying that you have to follow all their varying constitutional requirements) in a way treaty changes have to be and approved by “the European council”. As you explain, the latter is the case here but the question seems to stem from the confusion between these two things. A European Council meeting can certainly be convened on short notice on March 29 or April 14 so that procedure doesn't take much time in practice.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 25, 2019 at 22:50
  • @Relaxed Noted. How very Semi-Presidential!
    – owjburnham
    Mar 26, 2019 at 9:21

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