Brexit Brief: Out on a Limb

Posted on 22nd March 2019

Last night, the EU formally agreed to a Brexit delay until 22 May if MPs agree on a deal next week. If not, the UK has until 12 April to figure out the next steps. The tension was high during the week as EU leaders disagreed on the best course of actions with some favouring a lengthier extension to give the UK time to find a tangible solution, others opting for a short extension in light of the European elections, and finally some accepting the risks of no deal. Despite their differences, EU leaders built a consensus (n. “a generally accepted opinion or decision among a group of people”, to save SW1 readers an Internet search) and gave the UK some homework: agree to a deal next week or find a solution by 12 April to avoid leaving without a deal.

Mending fences after burning bridges

Starting today May will have to mend fences in parliament and try, for the third time, to gain support for her deal. She’ll have to roll up her sleeves for this one. Earlier this week, May angered MPs across parties as she defied parliamentary procedure when she requested a shorter extension than agreed last week. In addition to an angry parliament, the prime minister will have to play nice with Commons Speaker John Bercow, who earlier this week ruled out a third vote on a deal unless it had substantial changes.

Find a solution, any solution

If, or when, MPs reject the Withdrawal Agreement next week, the clock will start ticking. The UK will need to find a solution.  The options, despite Westminster’s fervent hopes, remain exactly as they were in 2016: cancelling Brexit, softening Brexit, or no deal. In this case, the UK would revert to WTO trade rules and the issue of the Northern Irish border would be left unresolved. If they extend, the political parties will have to scramble up candidates for the European elections.

Again with the soft Brexit

Meanwhile, opposition parties are preparing their own contingency plans. Leaders from the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party are calling for a second referendum and attempting to bring a reluctant Labour on their side. Main opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has been careful not to officially support the “People’s Vote” campaign, spending most of his time pushing for a soft Brexit (based around a customs union, or a Norway-like deal) and negotiating with like-minded EU leaders.

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