Brexit: What on earth is going on?

Theresa May arrives at the European Council in Brussels. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Theresa May arrives at the European Council in Brussels. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
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Today Theresa May is heading to Brussels to ask EU leaders to grant a further Brexit extension.

She wants a short extension until June 30 but the EU27 look set to offer a year-long hiatus or nothing.

REMEMBER: As it stands the legal position is that unless something new is agreed, Britain will leave without a deal on April 12.

What’s happening in Westminster?

The Government, having failed three times to get it’s Brexit deal approved by the House of Commons, is now in talks with Labour to try to hash out a new plan that could get the backing of a majority of MPs.

Word in the corridors of power is that a similar deal but with a customs union tacked on could get the backing needed to finally unlock the Brexit deadlock.

However, although both sides are making vaguely positive noises, neither seem willing to compromise and negotiations have stalled.

Although this will frustrate many MPs, there are two groups who will be relieved - the hard Brexiteers who see a customs union as a betrayal of the referendum result, and the People’s Vote advocates who want the final decision to be handed back to the electorate.

MEANWHILE: Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford Yvette Cooper has managed to get a Bill binding the Government to avoiding no deal through the Commons and Lords at lightning speed over the last few days. Although it doesn’t take legal precedence over the Article 50 process it does enshrine in law MPs’ rejection of leaving without an agreement.

What’s happening in Brussels?

Firstly, it looks like the Brexit delays will mean that the UK will be taking part in the European elections next month - something Mrs May has been desperate to avoid. Although that could be cancelled if she somehow gets a deal through before polling day on May 23 - don't hold your breath.

If negotiations in Westminster continue beyond that date, the elections are unavoidable, but the new British MEPs would potentially never sit as the new European Parliament is not due to meet until early July.

Flextension: European Council President Donald Tusk's is in favour of a year-long ‘flextension’ to Brexit talks, amid concerns in Brussels that MPs will be unable to agree and ratify a deal before the end of June.

It would mean a lengthy delay, although with an option to leave early if there is an agreement at Westminster before then - hence 'flextension'.

Some European leaders believe the additional time would allow Britain the space to come to a settled position, but others fear an unhappy UK could be a disruptive presence in the EU - French President Emmanuel Macron seems particularly impatient.

EU leaders will decide tonight what to offer. The terms could put the Prime Minister in a tough position as she needs to avoid a no-deal Brexit but has previously said she won’t accept a long delay.

It would also increase the unrest among some Tory MPs already angry that Britain did not leave as planned on March 29, leading to further pressure for Mrs May to step down. And this time it really could be the end of her Premiership.

ONE MORE THING: Although it would appear to be the least likely outcome, any extension has to be agreed unanimously by all the remaining 27 leaders, meaning that any one of them could veto it.

IN SHORT: All eyes are on Brussels tonight, as EU leaders determine the future of British politics. Once again, this doesn’t really feel like 'taking back control'.