Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Après May

by Frank Schnittger Fri Mar 22nd, 2019 at 01:00:27 PM EST

The Daily Mail, formerly the chief cheerleader for Brexit and mouthpiece for "ordinary conservatives," and latterly (after a change of editor) chief cheer leader for Theresa May:

Theresa May was humiliated last night after EU leaders took control of Brexit and gave her a fortnight 'flextension' to get MPs to vote for her deal after calling her make-or-break summit display 'evasive' and 'confused'.

Britain will not leave the EU until at least next month after a late-night deal in Brussels where European leaders rejected Mrs May's appeal for an extension until June 30 after her plea for a three-month delay fell flat.

Instead they offered to extend Article 50 until May 22 - only if the Prime Minister gets her deal through Parliament next week.

But they warned her that if the deal was not passed she must make a decision by April 12 - just three weeks' time - amid growing rumours Mrs May could have quit by then.

Today Theresa May texted EU leaders and told them she would miss day two of the Brussels summit to return to London 'to work on getting the withdrawal deal passed'.

But slamming her approach Tory backbencher Michael Fabricant appeared to compared Theresa May to Neville Chamberlain, who signed a disastrous appeasement deal with Hitler, and said: 'At this difficult time we need a Churchill, not a Chamberlain'.

Insiders said EU leaders were visibly bemused during last night's Brexit debate described as '90 minutes of nothing' where Mrs May appeared 'evasive, had no plan and even seemed confused' when asked what she will do if her deal is voted down again.

One prime minister told aides afterwards: 'The only thing that came through with clarity was her lack of a plan' and one EU aide said afterwards: 'She didn't have a plan, so they needed to come up with one for her'.

Mrs May was ejected from the dinner and forced to eat alone as the talks continued to overcome the split and EU leaders then rejected her June 30 extension.

One senior EU official told Politico that after the PM left the room French President Emmanuel Macron said loudly that he believed Mrs May's deal had a 10 per cent chance of getting through the Commons but added: 'After listening to her, I now think five per cent' before Donald Tusk grimaced and chipped in that this 'sounded too optimistic'.

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The gloves are off

by Frank Schnittger Wed Mar 20th, 2019 at 10:16:12 PM EST

The UK government has requested an extension of the A.50 notification period until June 30th. This creates the awkward situation whereby the UK is still a member of the EU on the 23rd. May, when all members are legally obliged to hold European Parliament elections. It also created problems for EU leaders as the letter requesting the delay came too late for many EU leaders to consult with their parliaments - as they would normally do - before taking a position on it at the EU Council.

Donald Tusk, speaking on behalf of the European Council says "he believes a short extension to A.50 will be possible", but only on condition of the House of Commons voting in favour of the draft Withdrawal Agreement. It is available to enable the required legislation to be passed, but not to engage in further procrastination or discussions on the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

Theresa May, for her part, has spoken directly to the UK People in a TV broadcast over the heads of MPs saying it is time for MPs to stop squabbling and engaging in arcane procedural wrangling. MPs have not responded well, branding her talk pointless, insulting, and arrogant. Dominic Grieve, a leading Conservative Remainer and former Attorney General says "he has never been more ashamed to be a member of the Conservative party" and that he will oppose the Prime Minister unless the Withdrawal Agreement is put to the people in a public vote.

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People playing games

by Frank Schnittger Fri Mar 15th, 2019 at 12:30:37 PM EST

It was Karl Marx who observed that "history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce". Clearly we are reaching the farcical stages of the Brexit Greek tragedy.

Just yesterday the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, gave the official closing oration urging the House to support a government motion and saying it was in the national interest, and then voted against it. The Government's Chief Whip, Julian Smith, charged with whipping it's members to support the motion, abstained. Eight cabinet ministers voted against the government, and still did not resign or face dismissal.

A government motion seeking support for May's deal is defeated by 149 votes - the fourth largest margin of defeat for a government in history - and yet the government proposes to bring the same motion before the house again next week.  The House of Commons votes decisively against a "no deal" Brexit and for a delay in Brexit itself, and yet has no idea what it will do with that extra time.

Those voting in favour of a "no deal" Brexit claim they are doing so to put pressure on the EU in the negotiations, seemingly unaware that those negotiations are over. There hasn't been a serious negotiation since November and even all attempts at "clarifications" in accompanying documents are at an end.

The Attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, no doubt having examined the contents of his codpiece, seeks to add three paragraphs to his earlier, decisive, legal advice claiming that under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties the UK could cancel the Irish Backstop if "unforeseen circumstances arise" and drawing derision and scorn from experts in the field. How can you trust a country as a negotiating counterparty if they are proposing breaking a deal before the ink has even dried on their signature?

And yet all the while EU leaders are unfailingly courteous and helpful: would you like more time? How much more time would you like? Is there anything else we can help you with? Barnier greets Theresa May with a kiss and warm hug. Juncker doesn't even pinch her bottom. It must be bloody infuriating to be a Brexiteer at times. Just when you need a good bogeyman, he refuses to turn up.

But could it be a case of the spider welcoming a fly into its web?

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Countering North-South mistrust in Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Wed Mar 13th, 2019 at 12:45:11 AM EST

Letter published by the Irish Times.

Countering North-South mistrust

A chara, - Una Mullally writes that "North-South dialogue and cohesion must avoid unionist vs nationalist binaries" ("Southern patriotic grandstanding must stop if we want a united Ireland", Opinion & Analysis, March 11th).

My late wife, Muriel Boothman, was chairwoman of the Blessington Women's Group, then the largest rural local women's group in Ireland. Some 30 years ago they were organising family exchanges where Protestant women from the North stayed with Catholic families in the South and vice versa. For many it was a daunting and then a transformative experience because most had never been across the Border before and had visions of being hunted with pitchforks! They came to realise that our similarities far exceed our differences, and even our differences didn't amount to much more than cultural anachronisms.

In my youth, I did some youth work in the north inner city of Dublin, and there were many teenagers who hadn't been west of Capel Street, south of the Liffey, or north of Fairview. Similarly in Lurgan, where the denizens of some sectarian ghettoes had hardly ever been in the houses and estates of their opposite numbers. So, yes, there is lot of cross-community work which needs to be done, both within and between North and south, which no formal referendum or inter-governmental agreement can achieve.

This doesn't need to be a highfalutin philosophical debate. Playing Gaelic, soccer or rugby together, sharing educational systems and cultural events, economic links and social campaigns can all play their part.

But this is why Brexit is such a tragedy and keeping the Border open so important. Anything which reignites tensions could set us back a generation, and those who stoke those tensions should rightly be shunned. Some in the North may be more comfortable with "the good old days" where you knew whose side you were on, and who to hate and fight. Others in the South who have done well out of recent economic growth may wonder why they should take on the financial, social and political risks and costs of reunification.

It's much more difficult to be open and accepting of differences and creating relationships across boundaries. But it can be done and I am hopeful that the younger generation coming through to power will achieve it. Opinion polls of social attitudes show younger people identifying less and less with simple Catholic versus Protestant and nationalist versus unionist binaries.

True unity will come, if at all, not when nationalists outnumber unionists, but when the vast majority cease to care about the distinctions, or at least recognise them for what they are: minor differences compared to the greater humanity that unites us. The success of the Derry Girls comedy series among all demographics should remind us of that fact. - Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER,
Blessington, Co Wicklow.

Comments >> (8 comments)

Cox's codpiece

by Frank Schnittger Fri Mar 8th, 2019 at 09:18:55 PM EST

After the debacle of David Davis's no show in Brussels, Dominic Raab's token appearance as a Brexiteer Brexit secretary not actually in charge of any negotiation, and Stephan Barkley's convincing impersonation of a total non-entity in the role, the UK badly needed a heavyweight negotiator to do some heavy lifting in Brussels. Enter, stage left, Geoffrey Cox, a Queen's Counsel recently appointed attorney general, to cast his legal eye over proceedings.

It is not going well. According to Bloomberg, Cox's flamboyant style is not going down well in Brussels, but at least his Commons reference to looking inside Cox's codpiece to check everything is still in full working order provided some much needed light relief. He caused consternation and incredulity in Brussels and in Ireland by his claim that the Backstop could breach human rights law and EU briefings on the progress of the talks have been uniformly dismissive and gloomy.

In what seems like utter frustration, the EU is offering to go back to their original proposal of a N. Ireland only backstop. It was Theresa May who insisted it should apply to all of the UK - at the insistence of the DUP - to avoid a border down the Irish sea. Many in the EU were actually concerned at giving such a huge concession to the UK - cost free access to the Customs Union when Norway pays dearly for the privilege of access to the Single Market. The UK were actually using the border issue as a lever to prize open continued access to the Customs Union for free - but as usual, the Brexiteers were too stupid to recognise a gift horse when they were offered it.

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Britain blinks first

by Frank Schnittger Wed Feb 27th, 2019 at 05:25:39 PM EST


Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage: The joke is on them

Part of the Brexiteer mythology is that the EU is made up of incompetent and unprincipled bureaucrats who can be counted on to come grovelling for a compromise even if only at the last minute. To their discomfort and horror there is still no sign of the EU27 caving in, and all of Theresa May's best efforts at divide and conquer tactics have been in vain. If there is one takeaway from this almost wholly sad Brexit saga it is that, remarkably, the EU27 have stood united behind one of their smallest members and maintained a coherent negotiating position throughout.

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The gang of 11: A new dynamic?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 21st, 2019 at 05:30:02 PM EST

So 7 Labour MPs chose to resign the party whip and set up an independent group citing dissatisfaction with Corbyn's leadership and claiming endemic anti-Semitism within the party. Hardly the most pressing issue exercising the minds of the populace just now. Perhaps it was the only issue they could find to unite around.

Then they were joined by an eighth Labour MP and three Tories. Hardly a rush to the centre.

But enough to worry Corbyn and May, and soon, perhaps, enough to ensure that the DUP and ERG aren't the only game in town. The problem is that it is not clear they have a unified and coherent plan for dealing with Brexit. Do they all support a second referendum? Will some support May's deal if the alternative is no deal? Will their whole raison d'etre be undermined if Corbyn ends up supporting a delay and then a second referendum?

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Brexit is too high a price to pay

by Frank Schnittger Mon Feb 18th, 2019 at 10:35:01 PM EST

From the very first line of the foundation Treaty of Rome, "DETERMINED to lay the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe" the EU has always thought of itself as primarily about encouraging an ever closer union between the peoples of Europe as a means of ensuring peace on the continent. Ever increasing economic integration is an important goal in itself, but also primarily a means of creating inter-dependencies which make a resort to war increasingly unthinkable.

The success of this project is self-evident. There have been no major violent conflicts within the EU since its inception despite numerous tensions and diplomatic fracas. Seen in a historical context, this represents an unprecedented 60 years of peace. Seen in a geographical context, the EU is an island of peace surrounded by wars in the Ukraine, Kosovo, Syria, Palestine and Libya.

The EU has also been instrumental in resolving or ameliorating conflicts within N. Ireland, between Russia and former Baltic states of the Soviet Union, and between states on different sides of the former "Iron Curtain". It helped ease the path to German re-unification, and may one day do so for Irish re-unification as well.

Seen in an economic context, the difficulties being experienced by the UK in extricating itself from the EU illustrate the success of the economic integration project. It wasn't meant to be easy to resurrect the ghosts of militant nationalism, and the UK will soon find there is a considerable economic price to pay for doing so.

But just as the EU was primarily a political project with strong economic and social dimensions, so too is Brexit. Many Europeans seem puzzled by the UK's hell-bent determination to pursue Brexit even after all the evidence of economic damage has become more and more apparent. So if we are to understand the EU as primarily as a political project to build peace and prosperity, how are we to understand Brexit?

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A Special Place in Hell

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 14th, 2019 at 01:50:19 PM EST

I have been engaged in other projects recently and have not kept quite up to speed with the latest Brexit happenings and so perhaps you guys can help me out: Has anything of any real significance happened recently?  The main points I have gleaned for a cursory perusal of news sites are that:

1. The EU has lost patience with UK

Donald Tusk wasn't having a senior moment. His wondering "what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely" wasn't a temperamental outburst. It signaled the EU had reached the end of the road in its attempts to accommodate UK demands.

2. Theresa May is running down the clock

Having been rebuffed by the House of Commons, the EU, the Irish government, the DUP and her own hard liners, Theresa May has decided the only way forward is to run down the clock and see if the imminence of a hard no deal Brexit will concentrate minds and force acceptance of her deal as the only alternative available.

3. Jeremy Corbyn has decided to get in on the game

Smarting from poor opinion poll ratings and unease among his own supporters, Corbyn has decided to engage with Theresa May so that he can say "well at least we tried" if the whole thing ends up being an almighty clusterfuck. For Theresa May talks with Labour can help run down the clock and light a fire under hard core Brexiteers and the DUP that she might, just, go down another road entirely if they don't come on board with her deal.

4. But what, precisely, is the substantive difference between Corbyn and May?

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Trust

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jan 31st, 2019 at 12:52:12 PM EST

FT: The EU cannot rescue Britain from Brexit chaos

May's government has shown it can no longer be counted as a trusted partner

I had intended to address a slightly sheepish plea to Britain's European partners. Even at this late hour, the EU27 should show forbearance with the Brexit shenanigans at Westminster. The prize of an amicable parting of the ways -- or, in the best case, a change of heart in a second referendum -- was worth it. My shaky resolve collapsed after Theresa May's latest swerve. The EU could now be forgiven for simply throwing Britain overboard.

The prime minister's embrace of her party's hardline Brexiters was breathtaking in its cynicism. Only weeks ago she was immovable about the arrangements in the EU withdrawal agreement for the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Now she promises to try to rewrite them to suit the prejudices of her party. What of the Belfast Agreement, the treaty underpinning peace on the island of Ireland? It ranks second, it seems, to appeasement of Brexiters such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The mandate the prime minister claims to have secured to rewrite the Irish "backstop" is worthless and incredible. Worthless because all the other options for the Irish border have been exhaustively explored, and discarded, during the Article 50 negotiations. Incredible because the hardliners who backed her this week do not want an agreement. Supporting Mrs May now was a diversion. The real strategy is to run down the clock all the way to a no-deal Brexit.

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A Free Public Transport system for Dublin

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 12:39:46 PM EST

The Irish Times has published two letters of mine on successive days, which is a record! I would be interested in your views on it.

Free public transport - could it work for Dublin? Published 30/1/2019.

A chara, - I read with interest Lara Marlowe's article on the almost exponential growth of free urban public transport systems throughout the world ("Free public transport - could it work for Dublin?", Weekend, January 26th).

The Irish Times published a letter of mine proposing such a system for Dublin in 1980. In it I argued that such a system could massively reduce traffic congestion, reduce car imports, reduce fuel imports, and increase employment in the city.

In the meantime, we have seen a massive increase in traffic congestion, urban sprawl, commuting times, population density, and proposed and actual new public transportation systems such as the Luas and Metro causing massive disruption during the building phase and costing many billions of euro.

Tripling the size of Dublin's bus fleet would probably be required to meet the latent demand for an efficient and free public transport service, but the capital cost would be minuscule compared to the cost of the aforementioned projects.

Instead of requiring exorbitant new infrastructure, existing and underused bus lanes would be more fully utilised, and journey times improved as car traffic diminished. Valuable space currently required for car parking could be repurposed for social housing or public amenities.

Such an expansion of the public bus system would massively improve the convenience of the existing bus services by increasing the frequency, range, and scope of current routes.

Instead of wasting time, burning fuel, polluting the atmosphere, and contributing to global warming, commuters could work on the bus, engage with social media and, horror of horrors, actually talk to one another, thereby recreating a more convivial and socially egalitarian city.

If the buses were primarily electric, they could further reduce our carbon footprint, and reduce the fines we will soon become liable to pay for failing to reach our carbon reduction targets.

As we have little oil and no car manufacturing industries, such a system would also improve our balance of trade and employment levels.

As a nation, we think nothing of spending billions on (partially) free education, healthcare, roads and public facilities. But an efficient public transport system is every bit as vital to the functioning of a modern economy. How much time is wasted driving cars on congested roads which could otherwise be devoted to more productive work or social activities? How many lives could be saved by less tired (and sometimes intoxicated) driving?

It is an idea whose time has come. - Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER,
Blessington,
Co. Wicklow.

Comments >> (14 comments)

A Brexit Map

by Colman Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 10:47:47 AM EST

I wouldn't put too much energy into predicting the outcome at this point.

Comments >> (4 comments)

Democracy and the UK

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jan 29th, 2019 at 12:58:17 AM EST

Letter to the Editor, Irish Times, published 29/1/19.

A chara, -

John Lloyd (Opinion & Analysis, January 25th) argues that Fintan O'Toole has got it all wrong when he argues that Brexit is caused, in part, by a nostalgia for an imperial past and a tendency to blame the EU for all ills that afflict the UK.

Instead, he argues that Brexit was motivated largely by a desire to be ruled by their own parliament and courts which the British people can better understand and control - in contrast to a fundamentally undemocratic, opaque and unaccountable EU.

Am I alone in tiring of being lectured on democracy by the only country in Europe without a clear and written constitution, with an entirely unelected upper house of parliament, an unelected head of state, and an electoral system which can lead to wildly disproportionate results and which renders many votes in "safe" constituencies pointless as they will have no influence on the overall result?

One can argue that the Brexit result was as much a protest against a UK political system which had successfully deflected all blame for its own failings onto the EU.

For once, every vote actually counted. - Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER

Comments >> (10 comments)

A new deal emerges?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jan 25th, 2019 at 01:27:28 PM EST

Faced with the possibility of Brexit being delayed, or even reversed, members of the DUP and ERG are beginning to moderate their positions and are suggesting that May's deal could be passed if only the hated Irish Backstop clause could be removed or time limited in some way.

For their part, the Irish government is coming under increasing pressure to moderate its absolute insistence that there can be no border infrastructure of any kind. Critics are pointing out that a hard customs border will be legally required from the 29th. of March if a no deal Brexit occurs.

Officially the Irish government is still insisting that this is a problem for the UK side to overcome, and that it is awaiting firm proposals from the UK side so it can respond accordingly. The problem is that no one trusts Theresa May's ability to deliver on her promises any more, so what is the point of making concessions now when there is no guarantee these will secure a deal and that the UK government won't come back again looking for more?

But the outlines of a potential deal have been visible for some time if only the political skill was there to realise it...

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Pre-BrExit Chaos Ensues

by Oui Wed Jan 23rd, 2019 at 09:21:17 AM EST

The British business community has lost its patience with the political paralysis in the City of London.

Today's headlines in the media are filled with gloom and doom. To be fair, not just in the UK but also in the port cities on the continent.

In capital letters when decisions are lacking - F  E  A  R  enters.

More below the fold ...

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Has the backstop back-fired on Ireland?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jan 18th, 2019 at 01:27:14 PM EST

The back-stop is that part of May's now half dead deal with the EU whereby all parties committed themselves formally to what they all claim to be committed to in practice: No hard policed customs border in Ireland. Initially the UK proposed to do this via yet to be invented new technology which would magically make any border controls invisible. When no practical solution on these lines emerged they proposed to do so by retaining Northern Ireland within the Customs Union and Single Market until such time as another solution to keeping the border open could be found.

This was absolutely unacceptable to the DUP as it would entail a customs border "down the Irish Sea" between the EU and UK and, in their terms, threaten the constitutional Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The DUP is absolutely opposed to any and all divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain for this reason, except when it is not: On abortion rights, marriage equality, minority language rights, transparency of political donations, animal disease controls and some agricultural product standards, for example.

Theresa May's solution to this conundrum was to propose retaining all of the UK within the Customs Union until such time as an alternative solution could be found, thus giving Ireland, North and south, the best of both worlds: unhindered access to both the EU and UK markets, and calming the fears of most of UK business about barriers to trade with the EU for the foreseeable future. This has proved to be the single most unpopular feature of May's proposed deal in the UK, and is widely blamed for it's massive defeat. But it was actually a UK proposal and a massive concession by the EU - for which it has gotten zero credit.

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A Swedish government appears

by fjallstrom Wed Jan 16th, 2019 at 02:24:40 PM EST

In September, Sweden went to the polls, and the results were far from clear, leading to a drawn out government formation.

To recap, the left bloc got 144 seats and declared themselves winners. But so did the right bloc with 143, on account of the left bloc losing more. And of course the far right Sweden Democrats with 62 seats also declared themselves winners.

PM Löfven was voted down by the right and far right, but the cabinet has stayed in  place as a care taker government.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

Read more... (17 comments, 467 words in story)

What happens now?

by IdiotSavant Tue Jan 15th, 2019 at 09:29:39 PM EST

This morning the UK parliament voted on Theresa may's Brexit deal - and as expected voted it down in the biggest defeat for a UK government in the democratic era. So what happens now? The problem is that no-one can tell. The UK has passed into political singularity, and no-one knows what might come out the other side.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Too little, too late

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jan 12th, 2019 at 12:12:10 AM EST

Over two and a half years after the referendum Theresa May has finally decided to reach across the aisle and try to build a national consensus around her Brexit deal. She has begun talking to Labour MPs who have been saying for months they might support her deal provided they receive assurances on workers rights and permanent access to a customs union. She has even spoken to a couple of leading trade unionists she has never bothered to meet in all of her political career. Downing Street had to call the Union call centre to get the General Secretary's contact details...

It is a last desperate maneuver, undertaken only because the DUP has rejected her latest attempts to get them on board. With the DUP it is always a case of "what part of NO do you not understand?" It is the end-game of her strategy, first announced in her Lancaster house "red lines" speech, to secure a parliamentary majority by appeasing her the hard core right wing Tory Brexiteers and the DUP - all the while claiming to be uniting the nation around her.

She is also beginning to lose control of the whole Brexit process with an increasingly assertive parliament demanding that she announce her Plan B within three days of losing the vote on her Brexit deal next week. Tories are incensed that Speaker John Bercow allowed amendments tying the hands of the government. But what do you expect when you don't have a written constitution and precedents are there to be set? His job is to assert parliamentary sovereignty, not protect the government.

So what are her options for a Plan B?

Read more... (83 comments, 770 words in story)

This seems likely to be relevant … 

by Colman Mon Jan 7th, 2019 at 03:23:31 PM EST

Since extending A50 might possibly come up once or twice in the next few weeks this link to the legal decisions on EP seat distribution may be handy:

However, in the event that the United Kingdom is still a Member State of the Union at the beginning of the 2019-2024 parliamentary term, the number of representatives in the European Parliament per Member State taking up office shall be the one provided for in Article 3 of the European Council Decision 2013/312/EU1 until the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union becomes legally effective. 1

European Council Decision 2013/312/EU of 28 June 2013 establishing the composition of the European Parliament (OJ L 181, 29.6.2013, p. 57). EB/NC/fh 6

Once the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the Union becomes legally effective, the number of representatives in the European Parliament elected in each Member State shall be the one provided for in paragraph 1 of this Article.

All representatives in the European Parliament who fill the additional seats resulting from the difference between the number of seats allocated in the first and second subparagraphs shall take up their seats in the European Parliament at the same time.

There is no legal reason a long extension can’t be done, “just” political ones.

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Après May

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