(CN) – The uncertainty over Brexit is set to continue for many more weeks, and could drag on until the end of January and even beyond.
On Monday, the European Union said it will give the United Kingdom extra time to resolve its impasse over Brexit and set Jan. 31 as a new deadline. The EU said the U.K. could leave before then if a withdrawal deal is agreed upon. The EU previously set Thursday – Halloween – as the date for the U.K.’s exit, but a deeply fractured House of Commons blocked that from happening.
In the meantime, the House of Commons got back to work on Monday – and it was again wrapped up in its drawn out, bruising Brexit battle. This week, the battle is over whether and when to call new elections to break the bitter stalemate in Parliament.
On Monday evening, the House of Commons shot down a new attempt by Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson to hold a snap general election on Dec. 12. Johnson aims to pick up seats in an election and form a majority that favors leaving the EU on terms that could see the U.K. and the EU break off close ties.
An election in December is not off the table, though.
After Monday’s vote, Johnson said a bill would be put forward to allow for a Dec. 12 election. British media reported that two smaller opposition parties – the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party – were considering backing his parliamentary maneuver on Tuesday to force an election in December. Both parties see holding an election as potentially beneficial.
For now, Labour, the main opposition party, is opposed to such plans, largely because it faces losing seats in an election on Johnson’s timetable. Its immediate goal seems to be delivering more humiliating defeats to Johnson and weakening the prime minister. Labour, unlike Johnson’s Tories, is largely opposed to Brexit and wants to ensure the U.K. remains closely aligned to the EU.
Johnson said elections were needed to break the impasse.
“We will not allow this paralysis to continue,” the prime minister said. “This House can no longer keep this country hostage.”
Earlier this month Parliament blocked Johnson from exiting the EU on Thursday, as he had been promising to do ever since he was chosen to lead the Tories in July. His slogan has been “Get Brexit Done.”
This new Brexit delay can be counted as a major setback for the prime minister who’d said he would lead the U.K. out on Halloween “do or die.” He’d also said he would prefer to die “in a ditch” than ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit deadline.
Instead, a humiliated Johnson last week was forced by law to send the EU a letter requesting a Brexit extension. Grudgingly, he sent the letter, but left it unsigned. In a second letter, he said he didn’t want Brexit delayed.
Over the weekend, there were rumblings that France was tempted to torpedo a long Brexit extension. French President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly expressed his frustration with Brexit and complained that it is taking up too much of the EU’s time and energy. In the end, though, France agreed to the new deadline.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, announced the extension on Monday.
Untangling itself from decades of ever-closer involvement with the EU has been much harder than pro-Brexit politicians like Johnson said it would be when they backed the U.K.’s exit from the bloc.
It’s been nearly three and a half years since 52% of U.K. voters backed leaving the EU in a June 2016 referendum. Since then, a massive movement against the U.K.’s exit has grown and polls suggest that a slim majority of Brits would vote to remain in the EU if a vote were held now. Divisions over Brexit run deep and have fractured the country’s politics and public, turning Brexit into the U.K.’s biggest political crisis since the end of World War II.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)