What can the UK do to prolong the deadline for Brexit. From my understanding the deadline is fixed by the EU and will not be extended.

But now they passed a vote to try to get more time, how do they think to manage this?

5 Answers 5


The date on which the United Kingdom ceases to be a member state of the European Union can be extended, by a procedure described in section 3 of Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union:

  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.

The negotiating period has already been extended twice, and lawfully can be extended again provided all EU member states agree.

We can speculate as to whether there will be a unanimous verdict to extend the period from the European Council. The current prevailing wisdom in the UK is that major political changes in the UK will be required for such an extension to be granted, as it is unlikely that all EU Member states will agree to an extension without there being a clear purpose for said extension, and a path forward to break the political deadlock in the UK (likely a referendum of general election). The more prevalent belief within the EU seems to be that an extension would be granted fairly easily without condition, to avoid the economic toll of an exit without any deal.

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    Regarding the last paragraph, is the idea in the UK that the EU wouldn't just grant an extension? Here, just across the North Sea, the people I talk to seem to think it will be granted almost unconditionally (at least in practice, there will of course be an emphasis on making progress) because of economic interests (that alone makes it cheaper to drag it on than to have no deal) and not wanting to give ammo to Johnson, it being an argument to blame the EU.
    – JJJ
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 11:43
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    @JJJ That's really interesting - the prevailing wisdom (at least as I have heard it) over here is that the extension would probably be granted, but the government would need to have at least some kind of a plan to show how there would be progress on the issue in the UK parliament before the deadline arrived again. People think that the EU in general would rather have the whole ordeal over with than have it drag on forever with the UK forever in the process of leaving. I'll edit to show the differences in perspective because I think that's valuable. Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 11:50
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    @KamiKaze I think what you (and the publications you're reading) are missing is how much the EU doesn't want a no deal Brexit. While it may be as prepared as it can be, it will still cause some economic damage (although not as much as for the UK) and it will absolutely cause a political crisis for one of the member states, since the Irish border question has no answer that both protects the integrity of the single market and doesn't risk the breakdown of the Northern Irish peace process. Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 12:39
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    @KamiKaze Your misunderstanding is because Brexit is a Conservative Party project. Teresa May focused purely on trying to get a deal which would satisfy her Party, without considering what would be acceptable for the rest of Parliament. Having been forced to put it to a vote in Parliament, naturally that failed. Johnson has failed in the same way. With a Prime Minister who cared about cross-party negotiations in the country's interest, a deal could almost certainly be found which a majority could support. We just need someone who will!
    – Graham
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 22:09
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    @CoedRhyfelwr With how Brexit looks at the moment, it's a question of ripping the bandaid off quickly now or having a few more month of instability and then ripping it off slowly. Most people I talk with just want it over with, because they don't believe the UK will change and the uncertainty is bad for everyone. The EU leaders most likely have more information than me, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of them thought the same and would block an extension, at least without serious concessions (immediate election?) which BJ would probably refuse to give in to.
    – user20672
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 6:55

Jean-Claude Juncker has already said, months ago that the UK is heading for another extension, see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/23/jean-claude-juncker-criticises-mps-prioritising-theresa-mays-removal-over-brexit

If the UK government asks for another extension, the EU isn't happy about it but they will grant it.

The UK Parliament is thinking of Jan 31st as the new end date, but the EU may have other ideas. In this case, Parliment could reject it see https://fullfact.org/europe/EU-cannot-unilaterally-extend-brexit-date/

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    Thing is, they cannot really afford to do that, lest they lose the last bit of credibility that remained. It is pretty much guaranteed that even the last voter (except those who are so ideologically blind that they vote whatever they voted since 30 years anway) will vote AfD/Lega/FPÖ then. That would be a desaster, and more or less the end of the EU. It's not just the "classic" parties who need to fear, for example Macron has told Johnson loudly "No way" every time he asked for something extra. He too, cannot afford to say "Yes" now (it was already clear that the 2nd extension was useless).
    – Damon
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 8:42
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    Plus, I seem to remember, that someone (though I cannot tell who...?) said after the 2nd known-to-be-useless extension that there would now be no further extensions, its 31 october one way or the other. Might remember that wrong, but it's what I remember anyway. In any way, it's pretty obvious that UK won't achieve anything in yet another 3 months which they didn't achieve in yet-another-3-months twice before after not achieving during 2 years. Nothing will be different in January, only the uncertainity for businesses and investors is needlessly prolonged.
    – Damon
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 8:45
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    Damon: people vote for AfD/Lega/FPÖ/Front National because of what they perceive to be a threat to their lifestyle, reasonable or not. Whether or not the UK is a member of the EU is irrelevant in that context. And as the EU doesn't really want the UK to leave, they'll probably keep granting extensions in the hope of a re-election cancelling Brexit at all. Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 10:15
  • @GuntramBlohm being represented by weak pushovers is a threat to my lifestyle. What will dey do next? Open the borders for unlimited migration? Cancel all trade barriers between the EU and China? Who knows...
    – Josef
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 13:20
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    @DohnJoe it's pretty clear that an election is going to happen pretty soon so even Macron would grant an extension on that basis
    – Vorsprung
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 16:07

The Benn-Burt Bill, works as follows (quoting from the Commons Library):

Hilary Benn, Alistair Burt and other MPs have published the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill. It is part of a legislative strategy to avoid (or at least to delay) the UK’s departure from the European Union in the absence of a ratified withdrawal agreement.

Regarding extension, the following is said:

The Bill is not the same as April’s Cooper-Letwin Bill. It goes further than that Bill in several key respects.

At first instance, clause 1 of the Bill gives the Government until Saturday 19 October to do either of two things. It could seek and secure the approval of MPs for either:

(a) a withdrawal agreement, or

(b) leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement

If by the end of 19 October the House of Commons has done neither of these things, the Prime Minister must then have sought from the European Council an extension of Article 50 for a further four months – until 31 January 2020.

If at any time after 19 October a withdrawal agreement is approved by the Commons, or the Commons decides the UK should leave without a deal, the Prime Minister can withdraw or modify his Article 50 extension request.

To summarise, it is merely an instruction from the UK Parliament to the UK PM to seek an extension (in case no withdrawal agreement is approved by MPs in the UK Parliament) from the European Council in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union.

So this bill is an attempt to make sure the UK doesn't leave without a deal, either by having a deal approved or by seeking an extension. That is all the UK can do, but there had been hints that the UK PM would try to leave "come what may" by the current deadline, even without a deal.

  • From my understanding, exactly that were the conditions for the current extension granted by the EU. "For the last time you get an extension. You have time till 31 Oct to offer a new deal or you have to leave without it". Do they really think they can get an extension. Because from what I gathered from the media, the EU is not interested in an extension. Maybe because they expect the UK to be not able to agree to any deal that is acceptable for the EU.
    – Kami Kaze
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 12:34
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    @KamiKaze who are you quoting? The EU may not be interested in an extension, but it's even less interested in no-deal, at least that's my understanding. In particular, the EU (as a whole, or individual members) don't get much out of a no-deal leave, they only lose out. The same goes for the UK, which has also been consistent in saying it prefers a deal over no-deal. The only problem is that they cannot agree on one deal.
    – JJJ
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 12:41
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    @KamiKaze The EU will prefer an extension, during which they receive money from the UK and their rules still apply. What's not to like about that arrangement (from EU's point of view) ?
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 21:04
  • @Sjoerd Regarding the statement that the UK wants to withhold the outstanding money for the EU and the amount of anti-EU politicans that were voted to the EU, I doubt that they see the current state as positive.
    – Kami Kaze
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 6:51
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    @KamiKaze the uncertainty is not positive. Most EU-UK is still in place (short of a UK commissioner and some more minor things) and that's fine for the EU, remainers and businesses. So while it's far from ideal considering it may end very soon, postponing that end when there is no deal in place is the pragmatic option, at least from most EU stakeholders (and probably many in the UK as well).
    – JJJ
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 7:01

The Guardian's Politics Live Blog often streams Brexit related debates and divisions that occur in the UK parliament. If you tune in to watch the exchanges in the late afternoon or early evening, you will quickly note that almost no one is ever bringing up the fact that the EU won't offer yet another extension. It is utterly disheartening to watch. It's as if they were living in some kind of fantasy bubble, blissfully unaware that an extension is not a given.

Not by a mile, in fact. On the contrary, the EU at this point has every reason to refuse extending UK membership beyond Oct 31. In no particular order:

  • There have been extensions already, and the current one was very hard to broker.

  • Rees-Mogg has openly suggested that Brexiters would try to sabotage the EU from within.

  • Farage and other Brexit Party MEPs demean the European Parliament.

  • In contrast with May who could be somewhat trusted to negotiate in good faith (she campaigned for Remain, in case it needs reminding), Johnson is a well known liar who led the Leave campaign and inspires no trust at all.

  • It's an open secret that Barnier thinks the negotiations are going nowhere (paywalled; summary).

  • Although he stated that the EC was resigned to entertain yet another extension, Juncker also added that he was "fed up" with the whole thing.

  • The mood has shifted since, and the EC is now looking into unlocking funds meant to deal with emergencies (e.g. fires) so they're available on Oct 31.

  • Both sides are claiming to be ready for a no deal Brexit.

  • Last but not least, further extension would mean the UK would get a new Commissioner at the new EC (which starts on Nov 1) and a say on the next (multiyear) EU budget. Methinks that is a big no no given the above.

In light of all of these points, I'm struggling to see the EU accepting a further Article 50 extension. It's just too risky. But who knows... There are only so many scenarios that can emerge from Westminster at the moment:

  1. Johnson traps the opposition (unlikely IMO) into accepting a General Election (GE) before the next EU summit, possibly allies with Farage, and wins (likely IMO, because it'll be sold as Brexit or Corbyn). In this scenario it'll be May's deal or no deal IMO because the EU won't tolerate another round of this madness.

  2. Johnson traps the opposition but then loses the GE (very unlikely IMO, see above). Some kind of Remain or People's Vote coalition forms, and a new PM goes to the summit. What happens next is anyone's guess, but I'd spitball that this is the only scenario where the EU might extend with some kind of enthusiasm, because it'll almost certainly end up meaning a soft Brexit or no Brexit.

  3. Johnson goes to the EU summit with a GE date set before Oct 31 (unlikely IMO). What happens here also is anyone's guess. Personally I'd expect the EU to reject an extension and then organize an emergency summit after the GE provided it yields a new PM (see 2). Else see 1.

  4. Johnson goes to the EU summit with a GE date already set shortly after Oct 31 (likely IMO). In this case I'd expect the EU to offer a very short extension to see who wins, with the scenario ending like 1 or 2 depending on who wins.

  5. Johnson goes to the EU summit with no GE date set (very likely IMO). This will likely end up like 4 IMO, but there is also a possibility that it ends up like 1. The thing to note here is that, because Johnson lost his majority yesterday, so his days in office are numbered -- a simple vote of no confidence will force a new GE in no more than 14 days. I think this is what MPs are expecting will happen.

In case someone wants to bring it up in the comments, I can't imagine for a moment that Parliament would preemptively cancel article 50 before Oct 31 to avert a no deal outcome. It's simply not an option. Doing so would trigger serious public unrest, and the EU would only accept it if it's done in good faith -- it's not. (It would be after a People's vote or a GE that wipes out the Brexiters.)

On a lighter note, Pro Remain Brits will have a consolation prize: the Tory party will likely collapse in the aftermath of Brexit, and leave the door open for Labour, Greens, and Lib Dems to stay at the helm for a generation.

  • This more or less shares my beliefs of the things that will happen. The EU can also not prolong the Brexit without losing face. I totally agree that a Brexit in itself is the worse outcome, but just prolonging it will not make it better and the EU can not give a better deal to the UK (a different but worthy equal maybe) without making the population feel cheated and give more countries reasons to think about exits.... It would be interesting to see the nationality of the answeers, to gain more knowledge of the perspective.
    – Kami Kaze
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 14:13
  • The current parliamentary shenanigans are trying to rule out options 1-2, and if they succeed it would be rather strange for the EU to let no deal happen during a GE.
    – Caleth
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 16:23
  • @Caleth: per my answer, the only scenario where the EU lets no deal happen IMO is if Johnson wins a GE. In scenarios where there's a pending GE I'd expect a very short extension to see who wins. And in the further scenario where Brexiters get the boot I'd then expect a long extension. Regarding what currently going on, I'd suggest it is the PM, rather than MPs, who are doing the shenanigans. The trap that Johnson is trying to set up (Brexit or Corbyn) is so transparent as to be laughable. The Guardian had an excellent podcast on this a few days ago. Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 17:47
  • I'm curious what basis you have for saying there will be serious unrest? If it is that the brexiteers won, remember that they won with 51.9% of the vote, which means 48.1% didn't want it. Given that that percentage (remainers) haven't caused 'serious public unrest', are you saying that brexiteers by their nature are trouble-makers and want to start some kind of civil friction? I obviously understand their frustration, probably all brits do, but it seems to me to be the minority of people who are MPs who are our biggest problem, not the issue itself.
    – rrd
    Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 7:05
  • @rrd: My understanding is that Brits voted for Brexit, but not for a no deal Brexit - particularly if it's against the will of Parliament. I think there would be unrest on the basis that the UK is being taken against its will in a direction that few agree with (be it no deal or no Brexit, if article gets canceled to avert no deal). IMO the only fix to this tragic situation is to have a second referendum in some form or shape (or a GE), so that people can vote on a concrete outcome rather than on whatever they fantasy that Brexit means. Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 7:18

From my understanding the deadline is fixed by the EU and will not be extended.

They've already negotiated two extensions with the EU.

The first from 29 March 2019 to 12 April 2019. The second from 12 April 2019 to 31 October 2019.

It's not strange that they think they can negotiate another one.

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    What's your point?
    – Rene
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 0:47
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    @Rene the questioner misunderstands the situation
    – Caleth
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 8:13
  • Independent of whether the questioner is from the UK, or not. It seems there is a huge disparity in perception between the UK and continential europe on how brexit negotiations work. To me (continential euro), it seems as if many in the UK think that the UK can still negotiate with the EU, or that the UK can force things upon the EU. It's my perception that the EU's view is, that negotiations ended when Mrs. May's deal was finally rejected by Parliament.
    – Dohn Joe
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 16:06
  • @DohnJoe Exatly this. The extension to the 31 Oct was the last straw given to the UK. At least that was what was presented to the EU population. 31 Oct will be the end no matter what will happen. That is also what Macron and Merkel told to Johnson lately. That is the cause of my question the House of Commons seems delusional (to the EU population) by thinking they can get another extension. That why I how they think they can manage this.
    – Kami Kaze
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 12:28
  • @KamiKaze If there is a general election in late October or early November, it's in the EU's interest to allow another short extension, to allow for the possibility of a Remain backing party to win the election and call it all off.
    – Caleth
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 12:30

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