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Will the EU give the UK an extension to Article 50?

Theresa May with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in February. Credit: AP

Will the European Union give the UK an extension? Well, that all depends.

There is no definite answer to that question in Brussels at the moment, reflecting the indecision and chaos in London.

The discussions here about the possible length of an extension all involve a piece of string. The EU is open to an extension, no-one wants no-deal, but only on certain terms - and attitudes are hardening.

If the prime minister does get her Withdrawal Agreement voted through on her third attempt next week, then a short technical extension to allow the progress of Parliamentary legislation would be pretty straightforward.

When it comes to the question of a longer extension, the answers get messier.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, in a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk earlier this week that spelled out his view, that an extension that goes past the dates of the European elections at the end of May would require the UK to take part in those elections.

Donald Tusk said he was open to a longer extension period for the UK. Credit: PA

If that happened it would be a “joke of history“ he told a German newspaper in February.

Earlier on Thursday, President Tusk tweeted saying that he was open to a longer extension, perhaps a year long, but only to allow the UK to “rethink its Brexit strategy." This is being interpreted either as a message to Theresa May to re-draw her red lines during the extended time frame, or to give time to allow for a general election in the UK.

The EU has consistently said this week that it’s waiting for a reasoned request from the UK for an extension and they haven’t received one yet.

Any decision on how long an extension would be would have to be taken at next week's EU summit in Brussels. All 27 EU leaders would have to unanimously agree to grant an extension and on its length.

Ironically, despite Brexit being about taking back control, the EU has the final say on an extension.

The EU has made much of its own unity during the Brexit process but when it comes to the extension debate, it’s far more fractured.

As it stands, no request has been made by the UK and, as yet, the EU doesn’t know what reasons the UK would give for requiring one.

And that won’t become clear while Britain's Parliament remains so divided.