One has to admire the EU’s parry to Theresa May’s request for an extension to Brexit to June 30, which was to offer an extension to May 22 if she could get her Withdrawal Agreement approved by Parliament by March 29. If not, the UK would be out by April 12 unless it asks for a long extension and described how it would arrive at a different Brexit (“a way forward”) or revoked Article 50, and also agreed to participate in the upcoming European Parliament elections.
The EU faced a number of considerations in coming up with this counter, and don’t kid yourself that any of them were about being nice to the UK. The EU didn’t like the prospect of having to hold an emergency summit when May’s Meaningful Vote 3 failed and being made the bad guys if they denied May’s plea for more runway to flail about. This concern has little to do with the UK; the European press has been giving Brexit virtually no attention, plus for most EU pols, being mean to the UK is more of a vote-getter then being generous
Forgive me for quoting from Robert Peston at length, but he appears to have the most extensive network of EU political/diplomatic sources of all UK/Irish reporters. From EU leaders ‘want rid’ of ‘Brexit poison’ at ITV last Friday:
The big drivers for why the EU’s 27 leaders came up with their new formula for determining when and whether we Brexit are:
- EU leaders had – and have – zero confidence that the Prime Minister will win her meaningful vote next week, and they quite rationally decided it was unreasonable for them to determine in conditions of extreme pressure in seven days whether we we are falling out at 11pm on the Friday.
- Many EU leaders are utterly fed up with how our Brexit mess is infecting their domestic political debates and derailing their attempts to forge an agenda to address the huge challenges faced by the EU. “They increasingly see Brexit as poisoning the EU and European nations” said a participant in the talks. “They want rid of it”.
- They did not dare set 22 May as the new default Brexit day, for fear that if the UK exited with no deal as late at that, elections for the European Parliament which begin the following day would be utterly overshadowed and skewed by the anticipated first-day no-deal chaos.
- Significant numbers of EU leaders are admitting privately that the time has come to “cut the UK loose”, that the prolonged Brexit uncertainty is damaging both their nations and the EU, and that therefore a no-deal Brexit on 12 April may be the best of assorted bad options.
So the purpose of the concessions to the UK look to have been to make it as clear as possible that the UK was in charge of its Brexit destiny while cutting their losses.
As we said, the EU is still at risk of unwanted outcome of the UK coming back and asking for a long extension, with it too apparent that there isn’t a consensus on a different type of Brexit, just on “no crash out”. It isn’t clear what the EU would say if May were somehow cornered into seeking a second referendum, given that the risks are high that a second referendum fails to solidify a new consensus on Brexit due to the inability to reduce options to simple referendum choices, plus good odds of the top pick getting a plurality, not a majority. But various EU officials had told reporters earlier that a second referendum would justify a long extension; Tusk himself even said so.
But have no doubt the EU would not be happy to have the UK take them up on the extension offer. Again from Peston:
Be in no doubt that every EU 27 leader dreads UK participation in those [European Parliament] elections; they fear our involvement will corrupt the process, and taint the institution. The notion of Nigel Farage leading a new bloc of EurExiters does not warm their cockles…
To be clear, though, the EU’s leaders can’t and won’t say no if we insist on fighting them. But they would hate it and would say yes with the heaviest of hearts.
Public sentiment is moving more visibly against a crash-out… Via e-mail from Clive over the weekend:
Against my better judgement I went to London today to do that most nebulous activity, taking the mood of the country. No better opportunity, I thought, than on the “Put it Back to the People” march…
The stations and, especially, the underground (metro) were absolutely heaving. Worse, by far, than a typical rush hour. I’m quite used to shoving my way onto packed trains when there’s a 10-20 people deep queue on the platforms but I was lucky to get into the second train (I couldn’t get into the first) at Euston underground (a major transport interchange I unwisely went via, I should have stuck to my usual suburban feeder station). Even then, the train was full (each train has capacity for 700-800 and it was at that. It was a slow shuffle to clear the station and get out the exit.
The march itself was peaceful and jovial. Attendees were a mix, a lot of students, a few families and an awful lot of retirees. Keep in mind that I spent £35 on my ticket (I live 60 miles out from central London, that’s what an off-peak day return costs with an underground travelcard). A coffee, water and a pastry in a chain coffee shop (I needed something to keep me going, it was warmer than everyone had been expecting, too) took nearly another £10. Protesting is a middle class pursuit. No-one on benefits or minimum wage in the commuter belt, let alone beyond, would have the resources to do it. A couple would need £50, even if they lived closer to London than I did, a family of four could crack a ton…..
The speakers were pretty dull on the whole. But the audience of marchers were a forgiving lot and clapped or cheered appropriately. The mood, however, especially far from the podium in Parliament Square where I was was much more notable for the grass-roots quality. There were debates, ad-hoc, informal, shifting and sifting as people moved and loosely coalesced about what was to be done from here. A few wanted the softest of soft Brexits, recognising perhaps that the die might be cast and some sort of Leave was inevitable. There was also a smattering of Norways. But most simply wanted Brexit cancelled. If there was a vote, it would be a choice between Remain or Remain. Any mention of May’s Deal was derided.
I didn’t stick around to the bitter end…I sat opposite (on the train home) a couple who were fellow marchers. The bloke was a retired civil servant, the lady (they were married) had the slightest of slight European accents but had evidently lived in the UK for a long time (I didn’t ask personal questions to discover more; we just don’t do that sort of thing here). I made open and neutral enquires about there thoughts on Brexit and why they wanted to attend the march on Saturday. Familiar talking points emerged — how the UK is too integrated into EU supply chains for unpicking it all easily to ever be a possibility (the chap I think was something in logistics in the civil service prior to retirement). Attitudes to migration, specifically being anti-immigrant were deplorable. Economic injustice was rampant and rancid. The couple were middle to upper middle class (they mentioned cruise holidays on Cunard, trips to North America for long periods, how difficult it was for family to live nearby due to the cost of housing). They’d had the benefits of prosperity but were ashamed at the pulling up of the drawbridge by the current cohort of middle-class folk.
They got off at Woking (epicentre of, if not Middle England, certainly affluent London and South East prosperity)…They were the epitome of a metropolitan elite. My working class family in the North of England or Wales would have savaged their cosy and cossetted world — and world-view — with a couple of well-chosen words.
But there were many people there who either shared their outlook or had a different outlook which nevertheless led them to the same conclusions. The UK has to Remain. There is no alternative.
And from PlutoniumKun in response:
It’s always hard to call these things at the time, but from a quick online perusal of the UK Sunday papers I do wonder if this weekend has fundamentally changed the national mood. The interviews with Tory MP’s sound a little like those of an addict who has reached bottom and has finally accepted he has to change. There seems to be genuine surprise at the huge turn out with the march yesterday and the lack of any real response from the Brexiters. It’s a bad look for Corbyn that the mood of the crowd lumped him in with the Tory Brexiters. Plus, it looks certain now that May has lost the last of her allies – she really has to go – the only question is if she is pushed or jumps.
The Remain petition is now up to 5,340,000 signatures.
However, as encouraging as this may seem to Remain and softer Brexit fans, Richard North points out that MPs and the pundits are still refusing to deal with Brexit issues:
A huge segment of the population has also chosen to opt out of any serious debate on the post-Brexit future of the UK, preferring instead endlessly to churn over the conduct of the referendum campaign, and to agitate for another in the hope of reversing the decision – thereby saving them the effort of coming up with any positive ideas of their own.
The net effect of all this misplaced activity, therefore, has been to waste time – even more time. We went through the referendum campaign without a serious debate on what the UK should look like after Brexit, and the bulk of the nation has been avoiding it ever since….
And therein lies our problem – amongst the various actors, there is the dialogue of the deaf. Each have their own little mantras, which they trot out to suit, and none of them listen to anyone else….But when one has Peter Bone, who wants to be a “managed no dealer”, in the list of options offered by MPs as an alternative to Mrs May’s deal, there is not a single one that would pass muster. In nearly three years, between then, MPs have been unable to craft a workable exit plan. This is institutional stupidity at an extreme level.
…but the game will be play out between the Government and Parliament. And it’s not looking too good for things changing much between now and April 12. And the real deadline is not April 12, but some time earlier, since the EU Council would need time to consider any extension proposal by the UK.
First, May can’t be made to leave, absent a vote of no confidence, which would pretty much assure a crash out. Recall she survived an intra-party challenge, so the Tories can’t force her out for a full year from the last vote, in December.
Ironically, this is one of those rare cases where the Queen could play a decisive role. She’s the only person who could tell May she needs to go now and get May to accept that. But I don’t see that as likely.
Second, even in her badly diminished state, May is holding on. She has enough in the way of self-preservation skills not to put it to a vote if it would obviously fail, but she’s still trying to breathe life into her zombie. May is planning to hold a vote allowing Parliament to express views on a series of Brexit options. This is likely to show a lack of a majority for any particular choice.
Third, but even if May goes, what does that solve? A new Prime Minister won’t have May’s baggage with the EU, but EU leaders appear to have worked out that the UK is both divided and clueless about Brexit. A new PM can’t make a silk purse out of sow’s ear.
The reason May has managed to soldier on despite repeated political death events is that the Tory party is split between soft and hard Brexit factions. They would have gotten rid of her long ago if they had any alternative remotely acceptable to both wings. The Financial Times gave an update on the infighting. Note that pushing for a general election is a threat:
Theresa May fended off a challenge to her leadership on Sunday but struggled to win over some of her most ardent Conservative opponents to her Brexit plan….
Senior ministers rallied behind her in public appearances on Sunday, with MPs threatened with the prospect of general election if they supported rival plans for a soft Brexit this week when she makes a last effort to save her premiership and her plan for leaving the EU.
Possible successors — including the de facto deputy prime minister David Lidington and the environment secretary Michael Gove — said it was the wrong time to change leader.
Mr Lidington said that he didn’t have “time for plotting” and had been cured of “any lingering shred of ambition” for the top job….
MPs will decide on Monday whether to take control of the parliamentary agenda, allowing them to vote on alternative ways forward, such as a soft Brexit or a second referendum, as early as Wednesday. That could force the government to choose between a deal that splits the Conservative party or one that fails to win MPs’ approval.
Chancellor Philip Hammond raised the stakes by saying that another referendum was “a “perfectly coherent proposition” that “deserves to be considered”….
But Downing Street remains resolutely opposed to a second referendum or a softer Brexit. Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay said that there would be a “constitutional collision” if MPs backed staying in the European customs union or single market against the letter of the 2017 Conservative election manifesto.
In such a scenario “the risk of a general election increases”. said Mr Barclay. That view was endorsed by Downing Street officials, who hope Tory MPs will choose to back the prime minister’s deal if the alternative is an election.
Leading opponents of Mrs May’s deal, including former cabinet ministers Mr Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith, could lose their seats if a vote were called. But members of the Eurosceptic European Research Group sought to face down the prime minister, saying they, too, would prefer an election to implementing a soft Brexit.
Read this tweetstorm (hat tip guurst) for more color:
Sample of Tory MPs contacting me….
1. “No peaceful transition… whoever takes over 'immediately' becomes PM! – and will have a chance if delivering their type of Brexit .. big stakes.. will be brutal”.
— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) March 24, 2019
3. May loyalist Minister: “dark days for PM and party..authority got really knocked last week.
But- change of leader does not solve the problem. fundamental divide between no deal/no extension group and those who now think only free vote indicative votes are the way forward”.
— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) March 24, 2019
Forth, even if MPs do “take control,” of Parliamentary time, what does that solve? They don’t have time to forge a consensus even if they had sound idea, which aside from revoking Article 50, they don’t. On top of that, if the procedure changes fail to get rid of the ability of individual MPs to kill private bills by objecting to them, the Ultras can object to any legislation that would require the PM to act to prevent a Brexit on April 12, like revoke Article 50 or ask for an extension so as to hold a referendum. Recall that Parliament has no standing with the EU Council; only the PM can submit requests.
Brexit has looked like a controlled flight into terrain, where a pilot misinterprets flight information, usually altitude, and crashes the plane while in control. But another image that applies is operating a Boeing 737 Max, where the plane has gone into one of its programmed nosedives and the pilots are frantically trying to shut off the automated controls and right the plane. But in this case, some of the crew is part of a doomsday cult and are trying to confuse the pilots to assure a crash.