Every time we think this whole Brexit madness is going to finally come to an end, it just doesn’t. Always one step forward, two steps back – and with every move that the UK makes towards its exit from the European Union, other quarters in the UK are bringing it closer to remaining.
At a speech to the European Policy Centre last Thursday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker himself showed signs of Brexit fatigue. “I have spent too much time with Brexit,” he told listeners, before exclaiming that “It’s enough now.”
Juncker’s main task as President was to make sure that in the tug of war of Brexit, the rope did not break. Juncker admitted that the job, did not come without risk: “It could have brought the house down, acted as a catalyst for others, and split Europe forever. But it did not. Unity has prevailed. And one should not underestimate how many conversations and encouragements this took me and others, and Michel Barnier mainly, to make this thing happen – unity of the 27,” he said.
That unity Juncker refers to, has held strong on issues like Brexit – and it would have been very easy for any head of state to break ranks and attempt to blackmail the UK with their veto, for a price. A Greek might have urged their Prime Minister to threaten the UK with a veto anywhere along the way – unless the Parthenon marbles are returned.
France, and Emmanuel Macron, the European hero turned enlargement villain, are starting to make some waves. In the microcosm of the European Commission, which is a representation of power balance in the Union itself, some see a Franco-German war, and other see an alliance. What is for certain is that the unspoken competition of both countries to have their own people (not necessarily of their nationality, but of their influence) placed in every single cabinet of the incoming European Commissioners, does not have a clear winner.
On this backdrop, the EU27 ambassadors considered on Friday the UK Prime Minister’s forced request for an extension until January 31, 2020, with everyone waiting to see if France will break the line and ask for a smaller extension.
Juncker’s Brexit unity was under threat.
To please all sides, EU leaders, were trying to push an agreement for the extension until end of January, with the option that the extension could be cut shorter if all parties signed and ratified the UK’s exit agreement and all else necessary before that end date.
Even though this is being sold as a win to Boris Johnson, sorry, it is not.
The infamous Article 50 itself states that, “The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.” This means that there needs not be a provision for an earlier than extension deadline exit – as this is already foreseen.
The only way for the EU to make sure everything is done to get an earlier exit, uncomplicated by elections, resignations, and shifts in power, is to set an earlier date.
No matter how much things have changed since the Brexit referendum in 2015, or if the ‘In’ campaign did an inadequate job, or if the ‘Out’ campaign lied outright, the referendum is in all aspects still considered legally valid. And if it is legally valid, it is incumbent on the EU to facilitate that in happening. It’s one of those Rule-of-law thingies that the EU claims to care about.
Until something changes, EU leaders must put their personal feelings and ambitions aside, and respect that democracy cannot be negotiable, even when decisions are marginal.
But if someone in the UK does want to flip the switch to end up with a remain outcome, as usual, go to the Greeks – in this case former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and ask him how he did it.