The Brexit Pickle
Mrs May survived an EU summit meeting this week without any headline rejections of her plans by her fellow EU leaders. It was clear however, that despite claims of “significant progress” nothing has yet been achieved that could be presented to the UK parliament as a “deal”.
The major take-home outcome of the summit was that Mrs May is ready to accept an extension to the transition al period (between March 2019 and December 2020) which would allow more time for a UK-EU trade deal (post Brexit) to be drafted. Plainly, the UK would need to abide by all EU directives (laws) during this period, contribute to the EU budget, have no direct say in EU decision making and, probably, be unable to strike trade deals with the rest of the world. Unsurprisingly, it has gone down like a lead balloon with Brexiters in the ruling Tory party. The extent of the displeasure is such that within the day, talk of a one-year extension (or more) had evaporated to be replaced with “short extension” that the PM was sure would not even be needed. What was very interesting was the justification used to cover any extension was that it might be needed to prevent a hard Brexit situation where the UK and EU had failed to arrive at a completed deal before the end of the transition period. This would imply that May had finally dropped the “no deal is better than a bad deal rhetoric” which would obviously result in a hard Brexit if followed.
May continues to insist that existing proposals for the Irish backstop are unacceptable to the UK. The formal EU position is that unless some solution is found which will obviate the need for a “hard” border in Ireland, there will be no transition period.
May’s less than stellar performance has led to calls from some for her to be replaced as party leader (and PM) from within her own party, but no formal confidence vote has been tabled.
The party machinery is suggesting that if her MPs (and cabinet!) don’t back her position, the whole Brexit project might be at risk. Again, this is an interesting development which could be more than just parliamentary arm-twisting as it could be seen to suggest that May might rescind article 50 notice rather than face an economically disastrous hard Brexit. The trouble is that few (possibly including the PM) know exactly where this is heading.
On Saturday, members of groupings keen to see the UK remain in the EU and at least give the public the chance to endorse the final “deal” or determine to stay in the EU are holding a mass rally in London to push for a “People’s Vote” on the Brexit process. It occurs at an absolutely critical time in the Brexit saga and could have an influence if attendance is great enough.