In the early hours today, after the European Council offered the UK an extension to Article 50 until 31st of October, Donald Tusk said: “This extension is as flexible as I expected, and a little bit shorter than I expected, but it’s still enough to find the best possible solution. Please do not waste this time.”
Do not waste this time.
In a bid to show that they are on the case, MPs met this afternoon to hear the latest. After listening to statements, they played their greatest hits. The DUP told Theresa May to keep the threat of no-deal as leverage over the EU. Former Tory Anna Soubry and Labour’s Hilary Benn both suggested a second referendum. This morning David Davis even suggested the EU might move on the backstop (they won’t!).
So, to use a well-worn but evergreen phrase, nothing has changed. And, with uncertainty over what the government exactly intends to do with this extension nothing looks set to change anytime soon. And if nothing changes then parliament will continue to waste time – it’s what they do best. Sorry Donald.
May went to Brussels seeking a three month long extension, while the majority of the European Council were after a year long extension. Despite a bit of grandstanding from President Macron (file under: favourite pastimes) who was after a shorter May-style extension, and after working into the early hours, the Council settled on the 31st October compromise. It is possible.
While the ERG’s hopes of a no-deal Brexit happening tomorrow evening have been scuppered, they now hold out hope that the new cliff-edge is 31st October. They’ll be holding out in vain however. Tusk said that if the UK still hasn’t figured out what it wants by the end of October, the possibility of another (fourth!) extension is still on the cards.
The EU’s decision last night indicates that they won’t mercilessly kick the UK out without a deal. And you may remember from last week the Cooper/Letwin bill that makes it very unlikely that parliament will allow the UK to leave without a deal anyway. And Theresa May, despite flirting with the idea of no-deal a few weeks back, has made it pretty clear that avoiding that outcome is now a priority (she sought the extension of her own accord, after all).
But no one wants May’s deal. And May’s deal can’t change (no matter what David Davis says). So what happens now? As the Commons goes on Easter recess the energy seems to be dissipating. It is unclear how it will manifest itself over the summer. But are we facing the possibility of no Brexit at all?
May is pretty insistent that she wants a deal agreed before 22nd May. If they can’t sort themselves out then the UK has to participate in the MEP elections – which is entirely fitting because it is the singular outcome that no one – not the Council, not the European Parliament, not the government, and not the UK parliament – wants.
Let’s not forget a few weeks ago when Theresa May said she wouldn’t tolerate “as Prime Minister” an extension beyond 30th June. Well apparently her aides have now made it pretty clear that she won’t be stepping down (voluntarily anyway) until a Brexit deal is passed. It’s possible that both of those statements can be true – she might get a majority for a deal before the 30th of June. Possible, just not plausible.
Seeking to blame anyone but herself for the awkward six month extension Theresa May told reporters: “Over the last three months I have voted three times to leave the EU. If sufficient members of parliament had voted with me in January we would have left by now.” Which is fair enough – if my deal had a majority then it would have had a majority. This is hardly insightful, but not incorrect.
Meanwhile, time ticks on, or is it going backwards now? Brexit – or non-Brexit – goes on round and round, month after month. The British like to think of themselves as being innovative. To prove it, the UK government has created the equivalent of anti-matter – anti-statecraft, in which nothing happens, repeatedly. Time and space expands. And Brexit and everything else along with it is swallowed by a black hole.