EU would delay Brexit to let us hold People’s Vote

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes and Hugo Dixon | 24.07.2018

Those who like the idea of a People’s Vote sometimes ask whether we’ll have enough time to hold a new referendum. Given that we’re scheduled to quit the EU next March 29, isn’t there a danger that we will run out of time before we can even ask the people what they think?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, it could take longer than that to get all our ducks in a row, given how much time the prime minister has already wasted. But, no, we won’t run out of time because there’s every chance that we could delay Brexit if we were seriously considering changing our mind.

It is possible to extend the Article 50 two-year negotiating period, but only with the unanimous agreement of all EU member states. There is very little incentive for the EU to extend the clock just to hold further talks. But it would be willing to do to accommodate a major change in British politics – such as a referendum or an election –  according to reports this week in both The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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What’s more, last month’s European Council summit agreed a formal decision saying that, if we are still an EU member after the next European Parliament elections next May, we will keep the same number of MEPs as we currently have. (See Article 3, Clause 2).

This statement was agreed by all the 28 leaders, including Theresa May. The other countries wouldn’t have written this into the fine print if they weren’t already contemplating the possibility that Brexit might need to be delayed.

The EU would also love us to change our mind. Until recently, few European leaders thought this was a realistic possibility. But the chaos triggered by Boris Johnson’s and David Davis’ resignations from the Cabinet may be giving them reason to think again.

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, reacted by tweeting: “Politicians come and go but the problems they have created for people remain. I can only regret that the idea of Brexit has not left with Davis and Johnson. But… who knows?”.

Indeed, who knows? Everything is up in the air. The chances of stopping Brexit are rising – and, if we need a bit more time to pull that off, we’ll get it.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

7 Responses to “EU would delay Brexit to let us hold People’s Vote”

  • Excellent, but we need a remain minded PM!
    May has not, and never has, had any intention of giving anybody the option to change their mind.
    The same as it is now obvious that she has been aiming for a no deal brexit all along, she has spent two years, fudging the issues, obfuscating at every turn, lying to everybody except her wealthy supporters.
    She keeps lying to procrastinate, and waste time, until she can turn on the EU and blame them, incorrectly, for their intransigence, causing what she has been aiming for since 2016.
    She has no intention of helping the British people, she is screwing them instead, in my opinion she is guilty of treason, and should face impeachment.

  • I don’t now how many of your readers subscribe to the Social Europe blogs, but today’s (24 July) items reinforce this message compellingly. Michael Cottakis of LSE points out that the May plan emasculates the UK as continental opponents in past centuries never could. The vassal state situation will be all too real.

    Alberto Alemanno of HEC Paris points to the political threat behind next year’s European Parliament elections. He says that they will be a contest between the upholders of the liberal democracy (enshrined in Articles 2 an 3 of the TEU) and the nihilistic policy-light appeals of the populists. Furthermore, we need business to see how much they have to lose by non-intervention


  • She is definitely playing some kind of game. The rush to invoke Article 50 and give notice; the complete refusal to acknowledge that half the voters voted for remain; the complete refusal to consider remaining in the single market or the customs union. Her behaviour seems illogical in light of the closeness of the vote and the complexity of the issues involved. I can’t tell if she has tried to run Brexit into the ground and kill it, or if she’s just trying to kill the country in the interests of whomever it is that supports her, along the lines of what you are saying. Whichever it is, it is definitely odd behaviour. But then, she is an odd woman, leading a party of oddballs.

  • Do not rest your hopes on politicians seeing sense at the last minute. For some people there is a practically religious zeal for leaving the EU at any cost at all. It is up to us to do what ever we can in any way to oppose them: letters to the press, raise it with any organisation we belong to, let Facebook know about the petition and demonstrations, invite sympathetic acquaintances to join you etc. Some people have given up – encourage them, and we can still stop Brexit.

  • It has been clear for some time that extension of the Article 50 period is an essential element in any effort to deflect the worst consequences of the path the UK is now on. However the effect of further delay upon industry must be borne in mind. It would be necessary to ensure there was sufficient possibility of a positive outcome for employers to hold off making major decisions which assume a negative outcome.