New Brexit fright night: EU sets Halloween deadline

The United Kingdom will remain in the EU — for now, at least.

EU leaders, acting on a request from Prime Minister Theresa May, once again postponed the deadline by which the U.K. would be ejected from the bloc without the protection of a negotiated Withdrawal Agreement, this time setting the date for October 31.

Crucially, however, they granted Britain the flexibility to leave earlier — essentially as soon as the U.K. government can reach a deal among its own warring factions, and parliament ratifies the Withdrawal Agreement. That’s the 585-page treaty securing protections for citizens’ rights, a financial settlement, and the insurance policy for the Ireland border known as “the backstop.”

The delay of this Friday’s deadline — itself a postponement from the original date of March 29 — averts a potentially catastrophic no-deal departure that both sides had increasingly feared as a path toward mutual disaster.

The decision was reached after a more arduous, and longer than expected debate among EU27 leaders at a summit in Brussels that began Wednesday evening and stretched until 2 a.m. Thursday. While the leaders had agreed ahead of time that an extension was necessary, French President Emmanuel Macron made a fierce argument for only a short postponement, effectively siding with May who had requested a delay until June 30.

“This means an additional six months for the U.K.” — Donald Tusk, European Council president

Heavily outnumbered by other leaders, including Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron eventually relented. But he succeeded in reducing the extension to nearly half of the year-long delay that EU officials had envisioned going into their meeting.

 »