For purely “technical reasons”, and not because it is Halloween as many highlighted, the leaders of the 27 other member states extended the Article 50 negotiating period until 31 October 2019.
So, what happens now?
All attention will now turn to a deadlocked Westminster as leaders from the major parties attempt to thrash out a compromise deal. Six months are now available to break the impasse.
Today, a Labour spokesperson confirmed that Jeremy Corbyn had had a further meeting with Theresa May, adding: “Both sides agreed to continue talks in an effort to make substantive progress towards finding a compromise plan.”
Before parliament returns to debating Brexit, however, the House of Commons will from today break for a week-long Easter recess, and return on 23 April. Talks between Labour and the government are expected to continue during this period.
Will the UK leave the EU on Halloween?
The prime minister’s request of a 30 June extension was rebuffed by European leaders, who agreed to extend the negotiating period until the end of October. Theoretically, the UK could leave on Halloween, but given the previous adjustable dates of 29 March and 12 April, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility of another extension later this year.
Could we leave the EU some time before then?
Yes. If MPs manage to break the deadlock and agree on a withdrawal agreement in good time before 31 October, the UK can leave on the first day of the month following the passing of a deal.
It was also agreed in Brussels that if the UK does not participate in next month’s European elections the country would be forced to leave the bloc on 1 June, without a deal.
What happens if we have no plan in place by the Halloween deadline?
The legal default is that Britain will leave the EU without a deal, on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms – a route preferred by some Brexiteers in the Conservative Party. European leaders, who are growing increasingly impatient with Brexit, may also object to a third extension.
But with parliament and the prime minister so clearly against such a path for the UK, it would appear Ms May and MPs would rather seek another extension over a no-deal scenario if they fail to reach an agreement by the Halloween deadline.
Could we have a general election, a second referendum or a new Conservative leader?
Given the current uncertainty at Westminster, all of these scenarios remain on the table.
Supporters of a fresh referendum may now feel emboldened given that the UK now has six months to find a solution to the Brexit crisis. Advocates of such a route will now claim there is enough time to hold a “confirmatory vote” on Theresa May’s deal, but given no majority remains among MPs for the option, it still remains difficult to achieve for campaigners.
If the talks between Labour and the government eventually break down – as many in Westminster anticipate will happen – the chance of a general election may also accelerate a notch.
And given the Conservative Party’s next conference will be held in Manchester towards the end of September, Ms May will face considerable pressure before then to stand down as prime minister, making way for a new Tory leader.
But in Brussels on Wednesday evening, a Conservative source said Ms May’s promised departure date to her MPs was tied to passing the withdrawal agreement, rather than a specific date.
Will MPs have another meaningful vote on Theresa May’s deal?
Theoretically, yes. But given the prime minister’s own deal has been rejected three times by parliament – and MPs now know Ms May will avoid a no-deal scenario at all costs – it is likely to be defeated yet again if she brings it back to the House of Commons.
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