Pretty much the title.

My attempts to search Google only brings in swathes or news items about extension, but no explanation of why it might be so, at least none that I can find.

Attempt to make UK take part in upcoming elections and stay in EU out of inertia? It should be clear by now that no matter what the UK will not get their proverbial stuff together, so what's the point? Does the EU need more time for something? Way to give UK more of proverbial rope? Reasons to agree to extension elude me.


8 Answers 8

  1. A no deal Brexit would also hurt the EU. Not so much as to offer the pact that the Parliament wants (in the case that the Parliament knew what it wants), but enough to provide an extension to see if the deal gets approved.

  2. In the worst case scenario, the EU has a few more days to roll out its own contingency measures for a no deal Brexit.

  3. It shows the EU as a reasonable actor that does not refuse to give some slack to the other side.

In any case, the extension is not a big deal: a few days if the temporary agreement is not accepted, less than two months if it is accepted, and in neither case it will cause issues with the upcoming EU elections.

And for "it is an attempt to force the UK to take part in the elections" comment, I do not understand what the EU would stand to win from the UK holding EU elections, and the EU is not interested in that: even the longer extension ensures that the UK will not have to elect MEPs.

  • 2
    Note that Ireland (as an EU member) would stand to get hurt from a no-deal Brexit even more than the rest of the EU would; so it's reasonable for the EU to let Ireland's specific situation lead towards leniency for a more manageable deal.
    – Flater
    Mar 25, 2019 at 11:00

Simply put, a number of countries, most importantly Germany and the Netherlands, do not want the UK to leave the EU without a deal.

This is more for economic reasons than political ones. The chaotic effect on trade, in a no deal scenario, would have a significant knock-on effect on the economies of those countries (amongst others).

So the EU leaders effectively agreed two courses of action. In the unlikely event of the Withdrawal Agreement being passed by the UK Parliament next week, there is an extension to 22nd May to allow the UK to close out all the legislation needed to enact it. This is sensible in that the EU is getting what it wants for the sake of a couple of months and without the legal complications related to interference with the EU Parliament elections.

If the Act fails, then the UK has until mid-April to come up with a plan or crash out. The April date is the latest date after which EU Parliament elections are affected. If the UK still wants to look for a solution at this stage, they will be required to participate in the EU Parliamentary elections and the date will probably be extended until at least December.

So, in essence, the EU leaders have just moved the arbitrary end March date to the latest possible dates. Politically, the value of this is that they haven't shut any doors i.e. the ball is back in the UK's court.

It's also worth pointing out that some leaders (e.g. Tusk and Bettel) in the EU are still holding out hope that the UK will come to its senses (as it were) and revoke Article 50. The thinking is that the more chaotic pre-Brexit is, the more likely that that will happen. This is probably wishful thinking but is a consideration.

  • 1
    I disagree with downplaying political reasons. The UK has been a major devil's advocate against European overreach. Now, a lot of the time, and certainly in the case of Brexit, this is disruptive and not constructive. But, in better days, they've often toned down some of the more hare-brained and overreaching proposals emanating from countries like France. Think for examples proposals to force a Europe-wide corporate income tax (not justified attempts to limit tax avoidance). Subsidiarity, was, I believe, a British idea. Smaller countries prefer not being bossed by Germany + France. Mar 23, 2019 at 16:39
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    @ItalianPhilosopher apologies but I’m not sure I understand. What has that got to do with the EU leaders agreeing a delay?
    – Alex
    Mar 23, 2019 at 23:36
  • That's in my opinion a wrong conclusion. It would be right had the EU offered an extension only if the deal was accepted. However, they did offer a longer extension in that case, and a shorter extension "for free" in the other case. Which makes no sense whatsoever. If you cannot expect a good end, it's much preferrable to have the bad end sooner, and end the endless whining. Sadly, this shows how very right the British are to leave the EU, since it can't even get this thing right.
    – Damon
    Mar 24, 2019 at 19:37
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    @Damon: That's ascribing a unity of mind both to the EU and the UK, when both are in fact indirect democracies. The EU is very much aware that a leadership change in the UK is a more than theoretical possibility, especially if May fails a third time. They're not giving May more time for her deal, but May's successor gets a few more weeks.
    – MSalters
    Mar 24, 2019 at 23:13
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    @Damon "If you cannot expect a good end, it's much preferrable to have the bad end sooner" is complete nonsense from an EU point of view. If there were no elections in May, an indefinite extension means a status quo, which is preferable over each of the current possible endings (for both parties). A such, both the EU and UK want the longest possible extensions that do not further complicate the current situation. The short extension given is the longest one possible without extra complications caused by said elections.
    – DonFusili
    Mar 25, 2019 at 9:38

The EU doesn't need more time, and it certainly doesn't want to give the UK more rope to hang itself.

The EU does not want a no-deal Brexit. There are lots of things which immediately affect the EU and/or its citizens directly, and I'll point out a few:

  • There's a 39 billion € settlement which is likely not going to be paid with a no deal Brexit.
  • There will be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on a no deal Brexit.
  • There will not be an agreement on rights of EU citizens in the UK (or UK citizens in the EU). They may have to leave sooner or later.
  • Additional customs checks are costly to implement, costly to maintain, and will hurt trade.

But the most important reason is that while the UK will leave the EU, it will still be located really close to the EU. The entire reason the EU exists is the realization that "we're going to need each other tomorrow". The UK may leave, but there will still be a future between the EU and the UK. Starting that future with slammed doors will only cause pain and suffering. The EU builds bridges, it doesn't burn them.

Granting a two week (or two months) extension is an easy price to pay. It only took the EU council a few hours to agree on the length of the extension, there was hardly a debate on whether an extension should be granted.


Extending a few weeks doesn't really hurt the EU*. Kicking them out now might put part of the blame on the EU, at least in some people's perception. At least with the EU elections, the EU has a good excuse to force the UK out, or force them to take part in EU elections (which is counter to the promised leaving of the EU).

If May manages to pass the deal now (very unlikely, I know), no-deal is successfully averted which would be very good for the parties involved.

If May does not manage to come up with a good alternative then the UK will be out only a few weeks later. Yes, this causes the uncertainty to exist for a few more weeks, but it also gives some time to prepare as it's clearer now than ever before that no-deal is likely.

If May does manage to propose a new deal that is agreeable to the EU and UK parliament (maybe the UK decides to come up with a cross-party approach) that would be even better. It's in everyone's interest that there is a deal and the more people support a deal the more likely it is to be a lasting solution.

*In fact, the extra time may be helpful for some business's and countries' no-deal preparations. Dutch state media wrote the following:

Het uitstel van brexit lijkt Nederlandse ondernemers goed uit te komen. Twee derde heeft zich namelijk niet of maar een beetje voorbereid op een vertrek van de Britten, blijkt uit nieuwe cijfers van het ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken.

Ook in de Nederlandse havens moet nog veel gebeuren om de export naar het Verenigd Koninkrijk ook na een Brits vertrek uit de Europese Unie soepel te laten verlopen. Deal óf geen deal.

Roughly translated by me:

The postponement of Brexit seems to be good for Dutch entrepreneurs. Two-thirds has made no or only little preparations for the British departure from the EU, statistics from the Dutch Foreign Ministry show.

Dutch ports, too, still need to do a lot to ensure exports to the UK continue to run smoothly. Deal or no deal.


I have to agree for the most part with Alex. The EU is trying to force the UK so that they do not leave without a deal. Most European leaders would prefer no Brexit over May's deal, but they settle for it if it's the best option they have. Their calculation isn't that difficult: If May's deal does not get enacted, they assume that parliament will act to avoid the no deal that they clearly do not want. The two options would be ask for a longer extension(at least till the end of the year) or revoke article 50. In either case a no deal is avoided. The biggest flaw in this plan is that parliament will not have much time to act and it's even an uncertainty if they will when they are headed for a no deal.

  • 6
    Yes, the most recent proof comes out of the german newspaper "deutshe welle" by richard connor in which he explains the european side of brexit and the perspectives of the individual countries. dw.com/en/brexit-what-europe-wants/a-47165443 Also we have the joint statement on the official site of council ofthe european union in which they state that they regret the brexit descision but respect it.consilium.europa.eu/en/brexit
    – Lovapa
    Mar 22, 2019 at 18:02
  • 1
    On the contrary, the EU is trying to give the UK as much leeway as possible so the UK can make up its mind about what it wants, without accidentally choosing no-deal because of time running out. That is quite the opposite of forcing.
    – hkBst
    Mar 24, 2019 at 12:53
  • Longer extension doesn't really avoid no deal - I'm not sure that EU leaders would be willing to agree to it if there's no clear course of action to be taken within that time.
    – Cubic
    Mar 24, 2019 at 14:41

This article goes into some detail about why the EU agreed to delay the deadline. Key points:

  1. They want to avoid a no-deal Brexit too. If a short time extension helps the British parliament come to a consensus, so much the better.
  2. They deflect potential blame. By giving firm deadlines, Britain can no longer say that they're crashing out of the EU with no deal because the EU is refusing to compromise.
  3. They are protecting the integrity of the EU elections. These elections are due in May. By forcing an answer to the Brexit question before then, they're making sure that there will be no legal challenge to the EU electoral process.
  4. They signal that there will be no renegotiation. The time extension is too short for that.

The EU decision is a balance between the following needs:

  1. Not giving a long extension without proper justification on a way forward.
  2. Not giving no extension at all as that would increase the risk of accidental no deal (which neither side wants).

Therefore the EU granted two different extension based on what the UK decides to do:

  1. If the UK accept the negotiated withdrawal agreement then they get enough time to pass the necessary legislation to implement that.

  2. If the UK do not accept the negotiated withdrawal agreement then they get two extra weeks (on top of the one week left) to choose between no deal or a longer extension. Any longer extension creates problems with the preparations for the EU elections, which is why participation in those is a prerequisite for granting a possible further extension (such as when the UK want to hold a referendum of national elections to decide the way forward).


Most reasons given in public are lies, especially in politics.

More likely is that nobody knows how to handle this whole thing. The effects on trade, economics, politics, diplomacy, research and everything else are unknown and aside from a few fringe fanatics, nobody is entirely sure how accurate their predictions are.

If you are faced with something of high uncertainty and potentially serious negative impact, you will try to do two things: a) cushion the impact as best as possible and b) delay the inevitable as long as possible.

Every day that passes is another day during which a miracle could happen. Another day to use diplomacy, another day to maybe convince the hardliners to change their minds, and another day you get closer to your own retirement without the shit hitting the fan. Also, importantly, another day closer to the next election without all the negative impacts that someone might blame you for.

Large parts of Europe so strongly believed that the UK was just kidding and that diplomacy would avert the actual brexit that they made zero preparations for it actually happening.

Psychology is as important as politics in these days.

  • 2
    This does not explain why the EU did NOT grant the requested longer extension until 30 June.
    – hkBst
    Mar 24, 2019 at 12:57
  • it's ok. It's becoming more and more visible that people on politics.stackexchange don't actually understand politics. I've worked in this field but I get downvoted constantly. Guess I'll go focus on less opinionated stackexchanges.
    – Tom
    Mar 25, 2019 at 6:35
  • I don't understand the context of your first line, about lies. What/whose lies are you referring to?
    – gerrit
    Mar 25, 2019 at 14:27
  • What is said in public is not the truth - there is typically a discussion what to tell the public, and especially reasoning and thinking behind decisions is rarely explained truthfully.
    – Tom
    Mar 25, 2019 at 15:56

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