The aim is to give UK policymakers more time to create clarity on important questions concerning adoption of the Withdrawal Agreement and the nature of the future relationship.
In its conclusions, the European Council underlined that the UK must take part in the European elections in May if it is still a member of the EU at this time. Should the UK fail to uphold this obligation and does not hold elections, it will automatically leave the EU on 1 June 2019.
Furthermore, the European Council reiterated that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be reopened, but simultaneously emphasised its willingness to adapt the Political Declaration under certain circumstances if the UK so desires. However, it stressed that this does not mean that negotiations on the future relationship can take place during the extension.
Finally, the European Council underlined its clear expectation that the UK adhere to the principle of loyal cooperation and in particular that it does not impede the EU’s further development.
What has happened so far?
Agreement was reached on 25 November 2018 between the Heads of State and Government of the EU27 and the UK Government at a special meeting of the European Council. This comprises the Withdrawal Agreement, a 585-page document that lays down the arrangements for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and the Political Declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, which sets out the framework for negotiations on future relations.
Three attempts to secure the House of Commons’ approval of the Withdrawal Agreement (known as a “meaningful vote”), which is needed before formal ratification by the House of Commons and House of Lords can be undertaken, have failed so far. This means that there is currently no consent on the UK side to the agreement reached.
On the European side, the Withdrawal Agreement has been forwarded to the European Parliament for a vote in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. It can be ratified at any time.