This post will be relatively brief, since we’ll know in not that many hours what the EU winds up offering the UK in the way of an extension. However, the situation seems unduly fluid.
Tusk is still talking up a “long” but not longer than a year flexible extension….while Barnier is making tougher noises:
.@MichelBarnier in #GAC50: “Any extension should serve a purpose. The length should be proportional to the objective. Our objective is an orderly withdrawal. “No-deal” will never by the EU’s decision. In order to avoid “no-deal”, the #UK needs to agree to a deal.” #Brexit
— Daniel Ferrie 🇪🇺 (@DanielFerrie) April 9, 2019
It is still unclear what a nine month or one year extension would accomplish. It’s barely enough time for a second referendum, and the Government isn’t proposing one. The Tories are unlikely to go for self-immolation, um, a General Election, and even then, it’s not clear whether a General Election would end the domestic political gridlock, particularly since so many unicorns are alive and well:
About a billion miles from what those talks will involve. They are so blind and dimwitted that they cannot even see the damage their blindness and dimwittedness has inflicted on us. https://t.co/y7Z7wTxSL1
— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) April 9, 2019
So one has to conclude that a “long” extension isn’t about the UK. It would take a much longer extension to achieve consensus around a different position, even if that were possible. So it must be about other factors, like Ireland’s lack of preparedness for a crash out, the temperament of some key figures, like the native caution of Merkel, and perhaps the desire of too many not to have a no-deal Brexit as part of their legacy, even though they went further than they should have trying to protect the UK from itself.
May is still sticking to her June 30 extension request. Don’t ask. I think there is a word in German that means something like “Feeling embarrassed for someone who ought to be embarrassed and isn’t.” Her posture is surreal given that over half the Conservative MPs in the House refused to back her request to the EU for an extension to June 30: 99 “noes” and 80 abstentions, including by some ministers. May got enough votes from Labour to secure passage.
And this is from Donald Tusk’s invitation letter to the members of the EU Council:
Given the risks posed by a no-deal Brexit for people and businesses on both sides of the English Channel, I trust that we will continue to do our utmost to avoid this scenario. Therefore I propose that we consider Prime Minister May’s request for an extension at our meeting tomorrow.
However, our experience so far, as well as the deep divisions within the House of Commons, give us little reason to believe that the ratification process can be completed by the end of June. In reality, granting such an extension would increase the risk of a rolling series of short extensions and emergency summits, creating new cliff-edge dates. This, in turn, would almost certainly overshadow the business of the EU27 in the months ahead. The continued uncertainty would also be bad for our businesses and citizens. Finally, if we failed to agree on any next extension, there would be a risk of an accidental no-deal Brexit.
The EU already has the outlines of a deal. From Richard North:
Already, draft conclusions have been leaked to the media, which suggest that the UK will be given an extension. At worst, the cut-off will be 1 June if the UK has failed to hold European elections, but otherwise it will be allowed an unspecified period “to allow for the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement”.
The actual period has been left blank for the Council to fill in today, with the possibility that it can run on to the end of this year, or the end of March 2020. There will also be conditions imposed which prevent the UK from undermining the operation of the EU’s institutions. Mr Tusk’s flexibility will be permitted, with the extension period ending earlier if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified.
As Clive read it: “Suggestive of a nice, long, foamy runway being created by either the EU27, the U.K. — or both — for No Deal.”
The EU isn’t budging on the Withdrawal Agreement. Again from Tusk’s letter:
Some of you have raised concerns that the UK’s continued presence as a departing EU country would pose risks for the functioning of the EU27 at a time of key decisions on its future. To address them we would need to agree on a number of conditions: no re-opening of the Withdrawal Agreement; no start of the negotiations on the future, except for the Political Declaration; the UK would have to maintain its sincere cooperation also during this crucial period, in a manner that reflects its situation as a departing member state. We should remember, however, that the United Kingdom will remain a member state with full rights and obligations. And, in any event, the UK can revoke Article 50 at any time, as stated by the European Court of Justice.
By e-mail, our Clive dismissed the idea that the EU could stand firm behind the Withdrawal Agreement, given that so many key players, Barnier, Juncker, and May, would be gone by December, and Merkel would either be out or even more in lame duck mode. I am less certain because my impression is many EU member states, as well as Brussels, have strong civil services. That leads to much more continuity of policy, because the civil servants have expertise and continuity of knowledge, and astute politicians consider their recommendations. Japanese companies have a more extreme version of this system, where business decisions are made at the top of the middle-management level, and passed through the executive ranks for approval, which is generally a formality.
In other words, even though the text of the Withdrawal Agreement isn’t likely to remain as sacrosanct as Tusk would like it to be, it is hard to see the EU retreating from key positions embodied in it, such at the Irish backstop and the “£39 billion” divorce tab (note the actual amount is conditioned on future events plus is paid out over time).
It appears that some of Robert Peston’s gossip we’d relied upon was wrong. The “no deal Brexit” planning in the Government is in overdrive. From Huffington Post:
Emergency no-deal Brexit planning has been ramped up at a key government department responsible for food supply, with officials now working 24 hours a day to minimise potential disruption
HuffPost UK has learnt that the EU Exit Emergency Centre (EUXE), based in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), has intensified operations this week amid fears of a potential accidental no-deal Brexit on Friday.
Don’t place much stock in Tory/Labour cooperation. There’s way too much historical bad blood and mistrust. From The Times:
Theresa May’s hopes of persuading European Union leaders that she can reach a deal with Labour to break the Brexit deadlock appeared doomed last night after cross-party talks broke down without progress. Sources on both sides of the negotiations said that four hours of detailed discussions yesterday had served only to show “just how far away” the two parties were.
Labour said that ministers had failed to offer any further concessions to break the deadlock and feared that Mrs May was being prevented from compromising by cabinet hardliners. Meanwhile, senior Conservative sources questioned Labour’s sincerity in wanting to come to a deal, pointing to division among Jeremy Corbyn’s backbenchers on a second referendum.
And from Richard North:
A sign of the nastiness that is infiltrating the discourse then came at a Bruges Group meeting, where audience members shouted “fuck government” and repeatedly yelling “traitor!” at the mention of Mrs May. Previously quite sensible people seems to have lost any sense of perspective, while rationality has long since disappeared.
On that basis, it is very hard to see how Mrs May or any Tory prime minister can conclude an arrangement with Corbyn and, even if that was possible, there is absolutely no certainty that there will be any success in getting the Withdrawal Agreement through parliament, even with the support of the Labour leadership.
Awfully late in the game, revoking Article 50 is getting traction in the House of Commons as preferable to a crash out if May can’t secure an extension or comes back with terms deemed too harsh. From the Telegraph:
Philip Hammond raised the prospect that MPs will revoke Article 50 this week rather than allow Britain to leave without a deal if Brexit talks collapse. The Chancellor warned on Tuesday that the value of the pound could fall significantly if Theresa May fails to reach agreement on a Brexit delay with Brussels. He suggested that the impact of uncertainty on the markets could encourage MPs to vote to reverse Brexit by revoking Article 50.
David Lidington, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, is said to have warned that the Government would no longer be in control and that Parliament and the Speaker would determine how to proceed.
Mr Hammond and Mr Lidington made the comments during a meeting on Tuesday morning in which ministers including Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, James Cleverly and Chris Grayling “war-gamed” a series of scenarios for this week. Mr Hammond, the Chancellor, and Mr Gove, the Environment Secretary, both raised the prospect that MPs will vote to revoke Article 50 rather than accept no deal on April 12.
In the end, what does delay accomplish? The Withdrawal Agreement will not become better loved with the passage of time. The UK seems incapable of settling on any realistic long-term vision of a relationship with the EU, and in any event, that bit comes after settling on a Withdrawal Agreement. So the choices seem to be no deal or revocation. Will the UK man up and make a deliberate choice, or wind up with one or the other by accident or panicked response?