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Brexit's torturous journey continues

THE bewildering Brexit process reaches another milestone today as the UK continues its torturous journey to leave the European Union.

Leaders of the 27 countries who are remaining in the EU will meet in Brussels to consider the British government's request to extend the deadline for its departure.

In keeping with the character of negotiations which many observers have already concluded are going round in circles, we have, of course, been here before.

Britain was originally due to leave the EU on March 29 - a date chosen by the UK government itself when prime minister Theresa May started the two-year clock on Article 50, the legal mechanism under which a member state can negotiate its withdrawal from EU membership.

Mrs May's failure, by historic margins, to persuade MPs to back the Withdrawal Agreement she spent those two years working on meant that in order to avoid a 'no deal' exit, she had to ask the EU27 to grant an Article 50 extension.

This duly followed. On the basis of commitments from Mrs May that she would be able to gain Parliament's support for the Withdrawal Agreement, the EU agreed to stretch the deadline to April 12 - this Friday.

Mrs May's fortunes, however, have not improved.

She has now failed on three separate, and increasingly desperate, occasions to get her proposals through the House of Commons.

MPs, meanwhile, have embarked on an unprecedented series of 'indicative votes', with back-benchers taking over control of Parliament's business from the government.

This has failed to establish a consensus or single course of action, beyond the success of a bill promoted by Labour backbencher Yvette Cooper.

Its effect is to place a legal requirement on Mrs May to seek an extension to Article 50 to prevent a no deal.

Given that Mrs May was faced with little alternative other than to seek a new Brexit deadline, it is difficult to see how the Cooper bill has forced the government to radically alter its approach.

Opening up talks with the Labour party was a change of tack from the government, but the apparently lacklustre and vague nature of these discussions is puzzling.

Mrs May is now hoping that EU leaders will agree to stretch the deadline to June 30.

She met with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and Emmanuel Macron, the French President, yesterday to persuade them to back her request.

The suggestions last night were that the EU27 is open to granting the extension, but only if she is able to persuade them that she has a credible, workable plan to finally get the Withdrawal Agreement supported by Parliament.

Amid the uncertainties of what might happen in Brussels today, the only certainty is that the Brexit journey has a long way to run.

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