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Theresa May’s preferred date was June 30; the EU 27 generally wanted a 12-month extension. What we have now is somewhere in the middle, but many believe that another extension is not out of the question.
What is key is that, if the House of Commons does pass the Withdrawal Agreement, then the UK can leave at any time before October 31.
A key milestone is May 22. If the UK has not ratified the Withdrawal Agreement by this date, then it must hold elections for the European Parliament. If it does not, it will automatically be expelled on June 1.
The UK government is already putting plans in place to hold elections and it is entirely possible that we end up in the rather bizarre situation where we elect six new Scottish MEPs who will never take up their seats.
Furthermore, the EU Council has made it clear that the Withdrawal Agreement on the table cannot be reopened. What is up for discussion is the non-legally binding Political Declaration on the Future Relationship. This puts the onus back on the cross-party talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn’s teams to find a pathway that is deemed acceptable to the House of Commons which is, as it stands, bitterly divided.
This is where the real bread and butter is for NFU Scotland and its members, who have been crystal clear that a no deal would be catastrophic for the whole agricultural industry and our iconic food and drink sectors and that must be avoided at all costs.
It is absolutely vital that any extension to the negotiating period is used constructively rather than as a can-kicking exercise to avoid an imminent no deal.
Cross-party talks between the two major UK parties have not yet borne fruit. However, the buzz around the talks suggests that the compromise could be in entering a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
An EU-UK customs union would remove the threat of any new tariffs and customs checks on goods being traded. However, any new customs agreement with the EU would need to be totally comprehensive and include regulatory alignment with EU standards.