Brexit is unlikely to happen on March 29 and may drag on until 2021. Indications to this effect are coming from EU officials who were quoted in some media reports.  

This impasse follows the evading political consensus in the U.K polity on the exit plan and the mechanisms for future trading relations with mainland Europe.   

There is frustration that Prime Minister  Theresa May has not been able to secure a deal from the E.U. She is under pressure from ministers not to leave the EU without a deal despite the March 29 deadline.

That is why European diplomats want Brexit delayed up to two years so that there is enough time to hammer out deals within the U. K and bilaterally with E.U.

The prime minister is also not keen on another parliamentary vote this week on any revised Brexit draft.

Now MPs will get to vote on the deal on March 13, some 16 days ahead of Britain planning to leave the union without a deal.

That is why senior EU leaders are advocating a two-year extension of Article 50 that is the legal process for leaving the EU. It wants U.K not exit post haste without a deal. That is why a two-year extension until 2021 looking viable.

Ireland’s prime minister also supported a “long extension” to Article 50.  Leo Varadkar said minor complications of Britain staying in the bloc and participating in EU elections will be insignificant compared to the economic damage that follows from a no deal exit of Britain.

A report in the Guardian said the EU’s stated position is that a longer negotiating period is needed. This idea is gaining ground in Brussels and Martin Selmayr, European commission’s secretary-general is also backing it.

The report also says there is “exasperation with May’s handling of Brexit is growing in Brussels”  and the chance of the U.K. going out without a deal is “more than 50%.”

Contentious Irish backstop issue

By giving a 21-month transition period the U.K. and the EU can roll out detailed plans for a future relationship without breaking heads over the Irish backstop issue.

The benefit of a 21-month extension will also add to the framing of a multi-financial framework that backs the EU’s budget process.

Theresa May says delaying exit is no solution

Theresa May who joined the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik on Feb 24 for the EU-Arab league summit confirmed that “it is within our grasp to leave the EU by 29 March and that is what we are planning to do.”

May played down the demands for extending article 50. She said it was not a panacea and “of course it won’t.” The British PM said it will only defer the point of decision.

Nevertheless, many MPs are lobbying for an amendment by the former Labour and Conservative cabinet ministers Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin coming up this week, seeking direction to the PM to demand an extension of article 50 if she is unable to get a deal ratified by 13 March.

European Council president, Donald Tusk told May in Egypt that the EU needs “clarity that a proposal for the way forward can command a majority in the U.K before the issue is tackled by the European Council”.

But some see the idea of a 21-month delay to Brexit is an attempt to cajole Brexiter MPs to support May’s current deal.

May is trying to convince pro-Brexit MPs that the Irish backstop is only a temporary arrangement that keeps the U.K in the EI customs union to avoid issues of a harsh border on the island of Ireland. Now March 13 vote will be very crucial in creating a clear picture on what is next on Brexit.