Brexit: European Council adopts decision extending the period under Article 50

The European Council (Article 50) today adopted a decision formalising the political agreement reached on 21 March 2019 on extending the period under Article 50.

In accordance with the treaties, the decision was taken in agreement with the United Kingdom. Such an agreement was set out in a letter from the Permanent Representative of the UK to the European Union, Sir Tim Barrow, of 22 March 2019.

Under the European Council decision, in the event that the withdrawal agreement is approved by the House of Commons by 29 March 2019 at the latest, the extension will be until 22 May 2019. In the event that the withdrawal agreement is not approved by the House of Commons by 29 March 2019, the extension will be until 12 April 2019. In that event, the UK will indicate a way forward before 12 April 2019, for consideration by the European Council.

The decision makes clear that for the duration of the extension the United Kingdom remains a member state with all the rights and obligations set out in the treaties and under EU law. If the UK is still a member state on 23-26 May 2019, it will be under the obligation to hold elections to the European Parliament.

The extension also excludes any re-opening of the withdrawal agreement. Any unilateral commitment, statement or other act by the UK should be compatible with the letter and the spirit of the withdrawal agreement.

Background

According to Article 50(3) TEU, the treaties are to cease to apply to the withdrawing state from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification, unless the European Council, in agreement with the member state concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

By letter of 20 March 2019, the UK submitted a request for an extension of the period provided for in Article 50(3) TEU until 30 June 2019, with a view to finalising the ratification of the withdrawal agreement. The European Council met on 21 March 2019 to consider that request and reached an agreement in principle on an extension, which is formalised in the decision adopted today.