There's a lot of brouhaha at the moment about whether or not Johnson would ask for an extension, including speculation on whether or not he will go to jail over his refusal to do so. But why is it presumed that Johnson actually has to ask for it? Couldn't the EU just go ahead and grant one, referencing the law requiring the Prime Minister to ask for one?

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    Then the PM would need to accept the offer. Does that make any difference?
    – chirlu
    Sep 10 '19 at 20:00
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    I'm speculating, but I'd argue that being legally required to do a thing, and actually doing it, are not the same thing. Parliament stopped short of sending the letter themselves, presumably recognising that such a thing is the job of the executive. Also, an answer to another question here makes it clear that, according to EU rules, only the head of state or head of government can do such things. Sep 10 '19 at 20:06

The relevant text of Article 50 is as follows:

  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 treaties itself do not require the withdrawing nation to request an extension, and they would allow the European Council to offer an extension unilaterally. Such an extension would, of course, need to be accepted by the UK (which the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act would, in certain circumstances, require the Prime Minister to do).

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