“I’m not going to comment on Brexit,” Donald Trump told reporters at a press spray with Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, right before he proceeded to comment at length. To Varadkar’s apparent bemusement, Trump told the press that he was “surprised at how badly it has all gone,” and that Theresa May had ignored his advice on how win a good Brexit deal. “I gave the prime minister my ideas of how to negotiate it,” Trump lamented, “she didn’t listen to that.”
Did Trump understand that Varadkar isn’t a fan of Brexit in the first place?
“I hate to see everything being ripped apart right now,” he said. “I don’t think another vote would be possible because it would be very unfair to the people who won, who say, ‘What do you mean you’re going to take another vote?’ That will be tough.”
Varadkar said he and Trump had “a different opinion” on Brexit.
“I regret that Brexit’s happening,” Varadkar said.
Right now there are plenty of regrets to go around. May finally won a procedural vote in Parliament that allows her government to retain control of the floor agenda, but it only passed by two votes. She also prevailed on a vote over a second referendum that went easily against the idea, as Labour decided that now was not the time to interfere with the Tories’ self-immolation.
However, Ireland may yet come to May’s rescue, in one form or another. Varadkar’s deputy PM Simon Coveney offered to get the UK an extension of their Article 50 exit deadline to the end of 2020, although he warned that his EU colleagues will want to know that May has some sort of plan for parliamentary success:
Irish deputy premier Simon Coveney has said the EU may offer the UK a 21-month Brexit extension.
Mr Coveney said a long extension to Article 50 would give the UK a “long reflection period” to consider the kind of Brexit it wanted and could facilitate a fundamental rethink. …
“Back a deal by the middle of next week and we’ll have a short extension which will essentially be a technical extension to get all the legals in place, or we’re essentially looking for, we will look for, a much longer extension to allow Britain to rethink its approach to Brexit,” he said.
Mr Coveney said a long extension was “likely to happen” if there was no agreement in the UK Parliament on a deal.
Parliament just voted 412-202 to approve an extension to June 30th. The EU still has to agree to that, a point which the EU wasted no time in raising, so Coveney’s advice is significant. The EU might be more inclined to agree to a longer delay rather than a shorter one unless they think May can pass the deal they have in hand now. Otherwise, they’re only postponing the inevitable disaster.
Meanwhile, May’s allies in Northern Ireland offered to rethink their opposition to the latest form of the Brexit deal. All the DUP needs, leader Arlene Foster announced, was a legal interpretation from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox that the UK could unilaterally exit the backstop if necessary and that the sovereign integrity of the UK would not be impacted:
Tory Eurosceptics told the Guardian on Thursday that they and the DUP could be persuaded to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal if the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, gave clearer legal advice about how the UK could withdraw from an international treaty. …
“We are speaking to the government. The government has come to us and the attorney general also,” she told the BBC. “We want a deal, we’ve said we want a deal, and we’re talking to them around that. We hope that can be the case, because nobody wants to leave without a deal. We know that is bad for the whole of the United Kingdom and we want to make sure that we get there.”
Foster said it was “not only about the attorney general changing the advice” and that reassurances had to come as a package. “When you come to the end of the negotiation, that’s when you really start to see the whites of people’s eyes and you get down to the point where you can make a deal,” she said.
That’s likely to be a “non-starter,” as one Brexiter put it. Foster and her allies basically want a legal opinion that the UK can unilaterally break international treaties. Every country has that authority to some extent, as long as they’re willing to shred their credibility when they do so. (“Executive agreements” are another matter entirely, as they generally do not have the force of law.) Martin Howe pointed out that collapses of governments in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and the elimination of the Warsaw Pact had not voided treaty obligations in those countries as seen by international courts of justice. Trading May for Boris Johnson would hardly even approach that threshold.
May still plans to bring her plan for a third vote today or tomorrow, so this could be all moot. It’s still unlikely to pass, which means that we’ll have to see whether the EU wants to delay a crash-out, and for how long.