That doesn’t mean Theresa May can’t keep trying to do so. The UK PM announced a short while ago that she wants the EU to grant another extension to the Article 50 deadline in order to work with Jeremy Corbyn on a unity plan for Brexit. Yesterday’s failure of four indicative votes to commit Parliament to any specific Brexit strategy left Parliament with only the option of pressing May to get them more time from the EU. Don’t count on it, Emmanuel Macron responded this morning:
A long extension involving the participation of the UK in European elections and European institutions is far from evident and certainly not [to be taken] for granted.
Our priority shall be the good functioning of the EU and the single market. The EU cannot sustainably be the hostage to the solution to a political crisis in the UK.
We cannot spend the coming months sorting out yet again the terms of our divorce and dealing with the past. …
Should the United Kingdom be unable to – three years after the referendum – propose a solution backed by a majority, they will de facto have chosen for themselves to leave without a deal. We cannot avoid failure for them.
It’s the second time in ten days that Macron used a hostage metaphor in describing the UK’s political meltdown. That description has gathered momentum in the EU, which has prepared itself for a no-deal Brexit and has steeled its resolve on the May-EU Withdrawal Agreement as the only alternative. May herself in her announcement said the WA had to be the basis of any deal cut with Corbyn, which doesn’t sound too practical since Parliament has rejected the WA on three separate votes and Labour has almost entirely opposed it.
The EU remains adamant that the WA is the final word on a Brexit deal. “If the U.K. still wants to leave the EU in an orderly manner,” Michel Barnier warned, “this agreement, this treaty is and will be the only one.” A no-deal Brexit, Barnier lamented, looks increasingly like the only possible outcome:
“No deal was never our desired or intended scenario,” Barnier told an audience at a thinktank event. “But the EU27 is now prepared. It becomes, day after day, more likely.” …
The comments from the EU’s chief negotiator were echoed by the prime ministers of the Netherlands and Luxembourg. “We have to take into consideration a no-deal possibility – it’s a probability,” the Dutch prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters.
“We are no longer looking for an exit, but rather an emergency exit”, added Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel, who was hosting Rutte for no deal talks in the duchy.
The remarks came in response to some claims over the last day or so that the EU might be softening its position on the WA and the “backstop” to prevent a hard border in Ireland. That seems to only exist as a possibility in the minds of some Brexit advocates, and the suggestion from Brexiter Damian Green mystifies this British reporter. “But the EU have also said they’re not going to reopen the withdrawal agreement,” he asks at one point:
The PM's ex-deputy @DamianGreen tells @SkyNewsPolitics the "one thing" MPs have voted for is replacing the backstop – and he thinks the EU could agree to it "in a quick enough period to leave on the current schedule" pic.twitter.com/OL5MNxpy0C
— Greg Heffer (@GregHeffer) April 2, 2019
The EU might agree to a longer extension past May 22, but that would require the UK to fully participate in EU elections on May 23rd. If May asks for more time past the secondary deadline, that’s the price of admission — plus a plan for resolving the standoff over the next year. It seems unlikely that the EU will want the uncertainty to continue very far into 2020, if even that long, but they’re not going to be anxious to refuse a longer extension if the UK acknowledges EU supremacy during an extension period.
But what purpose would a delay serve? The EU won’t retreat on the backstop in Ireland, and the UK won’t accept it. Parliament wouldn’t accept a customs union or Common Market 2.0 that leaves the EU in charge of trade. Nigel Farage, one of the hardest-line Brexiters, called all the alternative options up for a vote yesterday different types of Remain. A longer delay only delays the inevitable, unless the UK decides to shelve Brexit for good or accept the terms that the EU says they will not renegotiate, having bent as far as they could with May. If they’re willing to endure a no-deal Brexit now, they will be even more prepared for one in nine months.
The leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), says the longer delay is in the bag — because SNP will deliver a softer Brexit in return:
Blackford said intensive cross-party talks were now underway amongst MPs anxious to find a compromise deal on a far softer Brexit which would be good enough to win a Commons majority following the failure of all four alternative options on Monday night. That would then present the EU with the pretext for delaying Brexit for months.
Blackford said the SNP’s primary goal was either suspending article 50 or forcing a new Brexit referendum but its decision to support the Nick Boles motion, the so-called common market 2.0 option which involves UK joining the European free trade area Efta, was proof the party was willing to compromise, since the Boles motion was also imperfect, he said.
“We have to have generosity of spirit, but it has to be over things that get us to a better place than where we are,” he said. “There are an awful lot of conversations going on” focused on finding a new soft Brexit formula which might finally win a Commons majority.
It’s been tried twice and lost both times. Given the SNP’s opposition to Brexit and especially its restriction on movement within the EU (a key feature for Brexiters), they don’t seem to be in any good position to drive a compromise. The EU might be better off making a clean break now and repairing the consequences later rather than let this drag out for another year or more, damaging business on both sides only to end up in the exact same place. At least, that’s what it sounds like Macron and Barnier are saying today.
If so, Theresa May’s up for a no-deal, at least if dumping Brexit altogether is the only other option:
“I understand that May will tell political cabinet if it is a choice between revocation of Article 50 and pursuing a no-deal Brexit, she would opt for no-deal,” Sebastian Payne said, adding that May’s officials were briefing that a long Brexit extension was the likely outcome if she could not get her deal through parliament.
She needs to check in with Macron and Barnier first.