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Is the Halloween Deadline for Leaving the EU Still Possible? 

Speaking on Friday afternoon, during a visit to a hospital, Boris Johnson once again refused to rule out the possibility of the UK leaving the EU on 31st October. 

But considering the steps the UK Parliament has taken in the last couple of months, does this statement still ring true? 

 

The So-Called ‘Surrender Bill’ 

The UK Parliament passed the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill, informally known as the Benn Act, and it became law on 9th September. The bill states that if Parliament had not agreed to a withdrawal agreement, or a no-deal Brexit, by 19th October then the Prime Minister would be required to send a letter to the EU requesting an extension to the current Brexit withdrawal date until 31st January. A withdrawal agreement was not passed, nor was a no-deal Brexit, so the Prime Minister, though begrudgingly, complied with the law and sent the letter requesting an extension. As of Sunday afternoon, the UK had not received an extension date from the EU, with the EU stating that they will not offer a date until early next week. So, with the current Brexit deadline only four days away, and the government refusing to put any Brexit-related legislation before Parliament, how can the UK possibly leave the EU by 31st October? 

No-Deal Brexit or ‘Flextension’

A no-deal Brexit, though overwhelmingly opposed by Parliament, maybe the only way for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to stick to the current Halloween deadline. The withdrawal date is still written into UK law so unless the EU offers a new deadline, a Halloween Brexit will stay. 

The EU leaders see a need for an extension – they are just as unwilling to have a no-deal Brexit as the majority of UK MPs – but there continue to be problems over the length of the extension offered. The French President Emmanuel Macron, in particular, does not want to see this first stage of the Brexit process dragged out any longer, while other EU leaders would prefer to comply completely with the request set out in Boris Johnson’s letter. This disagreement between EU leaders could ultimately, though unlikely, lead to a refusal of the extension request. This would give the UK only 3 days before the deadline, during which time Parliament would, more than likely, speed through the legislation required to implement the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal before Halloween in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit. That is, of course, if the government decided to change next week’s business in the House of Commons to allow this to happen. 

The likelihood of the EU refusing the extension request, though, is practically nil. So, the EU could offer a double-barrelled extension, dubbed a ‘flextension’, in which there are two dates: one for allowing Brexit legislation to be passed and an automatic extension to the extension if Brexit legislation does not pass, or Parliament decided they needed more time, perhaps for a general election. 

But even with a ‘flextension’, of which the first date is being floated as 15th November, Boris Johnson is still unable to stick to his self-proclaimed ‘do-or-die’ Halloween deadline.