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Rain Chexit: European Union Grants Brexit Delay To U.K. — Again

A European Union flag flies Monday outside the Parliament building in London. The multinational bloc has agreed to grant the U.K. another Brexit delay, bumping the deadline to the end of January.
Kirsty Wigglesworth
A European Union flag flies Monday outside the Parliament building in London. The multinational bloc has agreed to grant the U.K. another Brexit delay, bumping the deadline to the end of January.

Updated at 4:08 p.m. ET

The divorce has been deferred once more.

Days before the U.K.'s Oct. 31 deadline to leave the European Union, the multinational bloc agreed to Britain's request on Monday to postpone the departure another three months.

With the announcement came another incongruously delightful portmanteau: European Council President Donald Tusk said Monday that the other 27 countries in the EU tentatively signed off on a Brexit "flextension," a flexible extension — natch — that will allow the U.K. to remain in the bloc through Jan. 31 or leave earlier if it reaches an agreement before then.

"This gives time for the UK to make clear what it wants," European Parliament President David Sassoli said somewhat hopefully.

Short of a significant shift in momentum, however, the recent political turmoil in London has offered little indication that an easy solution is on the horizon.

Since Boris Johnson took office as prime minister in July, he has been at loggerheads with lawmakers wary of his aggressive approach to Brexit. Johnson's bid to suspend Parliament for five weeks unraveled in court, his attempts to call snap elections initially failed to gain traction and many of his fellow Conservatives broke ranks to approve a bill blocking him from letting the U.K. leave the EU without a deal — despite Johnson's own claim that he'd rather be "dead in a ditch" than seek another delay.

The U.K. had been scheduled to leave the EU on March 29 of this year, until the bloc granted a request to postpone that was put forth by Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May. On Oct. 19, Johnson asked for another extension, as he was required to do by the new law.

"Relieved that finally no one died in a ditch," Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian member of European Parliament and Brexit negotiator for the EU, said Monday in a tongue-in-cheek tweet. "Whether the UK's democratic choice is revoke or an orderly withdraw, confirmed or not in a second referendum, the uncertainty of Brexit has gone on for far too long. This extra time must deliver a way forward."

One way forward may very well run through the British ballot box.

While Johnson's attempt to call snap elections foundered last month amid resistance from opposition lawmakers in the Labour Party, Parliament did pass the "second reading" of his new deal with the EU. But it demanded more time to consider the legislation.

On Monday, just hours after the EU's extension announcement, Parliament rejected Johnson's third call for early elections. But prospects are looking up for him if he should decide to pursue them for a fourth time, as he vowed to do Wednesday.

That's because this time, unlike his past attempts, he would take a different approach that would require only a simple majority vote in Parliament — and this route appears to have the backing of the Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats, two smaller parties that have so far sided with Labour.

The SNP's leader in Parliament, Ian Blackford, who tweeted a statement of support Monday, said in the House of Commons that his party would back new elections, though with a few caveats.

"We don't trust this prime minister, and we don't trust this prime minister for good reason," Blackford said. "So the prime minister, if he is going to bring forward a bill, must give an absolute cast-iron assurance that — up until the passage of that bill and the rising of Parliament — that there will be no attempt to bring forward the withdrawal agreement bill."

The Liberal Democrats have also proposed holding a new vote on Dec. 9.

The two parties, along with Johnson's Conservatives, hope that new elections can break the deadlock in Parliament that has so far derailed every attempt to reach a Brexit deal. Labour leaders, meanwhile, have professed the same hope — but have said they will not back new elections until they are sure that "No-Deal [Brexit] is off the table."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.