All eyes are on London as the EU extends the Brexit date for another two weeks, in what is undoubtedly Brussels last attempt at leaving all options open for the UK.
After a longer than anticipated session to assess and decide on the UK’s withdrawal date, as the Meaningful Vote of the Withdrawal Agreement and Strasbourg amendments is still up in the air, the EU-27 agreed that it would be in everyone’s best interest to kick the can down the road for another two weeks and allow British Prime Minister Theresa May more time to hopefully garner enough support for the withdrawal agreement to be passed in the House of Commons.
From frustration to ‘flextension’
The EU heads concluded that May needed some leeway to try one last time – which would be the third meaningful vote in two months – to get the deal done. By extending the original 29 March deadline to 12 April the Commons now has enough time to approve the EU-UK accord. That extension, however, was far shorter than May’s proposed Brexit cliff-edge date of 22 May 22.
The agreement, whose architects include French president, Emmanuel Macron, the German chancellor Angela Merkel, and Xavier Bettel of Luxembourg, takes the onus off of the EU when it comes to how the UK chooses to exit the bloc.
All options still remain on the table for the UK to pick accordingly, as articulated by European Council President Donald Tusk.
The best-case scenario for the EU would be an approval of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Strasbourg package and an orderly Brexit, a scenario that Macron and Belgium’s premier, Charles Michel, both to be highly unlikely. The two politicians turning have become even more pessimistic since the EU’s leaders were forced to intellectual ping pong-like with May over the state of the negotiations, which have been final for some time from Brussels’ perpective.
According to an EU diplomat, both leaders’ thought May had roughly a 10% chance to get the deal through the Commons’ thusfar impenetrable firewall. But after she addressed the leaders with her latest proposal, they lowered their expectation even further.
May was unable to answer many questions posed by the EU-27 leaders and Macron returned to his talks with the British prime minister with stricter deadlines, even tabling a ‘take it or leave it option’ with an alternative of a no-deal Brexit on 7 April
Macron appeared to be growing increasingly frustrated about the probability of another Brexit Summit. Macron’s Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, was originally against the EU trying to ‘blackmail” May in the days leading up to the summit. Tsipras was also of the opinion that the EU would appear inconsistent if it offered different extension plan from one week to the next.
“I am stoical by nature,” said Macron as he left the summit. “I do everything to be able to control what depends on us. What doesn’t depend on us, doesn’t depend on us”.
A good decision for both sides
“Frankly speaking, I was really sad before our meeting and now I am much more optimistic,” said Tusk after the summit. At the same time, he acknowledged that he is growing evermore emotional about the UK’s departure and cannot put the country on the same level as China when he thinks of non-EU entities, particularly when the leaders of the bloc discussed superpower relations with Beijing.
In what could be her final address as prime minister, May repeating that all options remain on the table and even if she is against participating in the May European elections three years after the Brexit referendum.
Alternative “indicative vote” plan under discussion in London
As the UK government may have now secured a bit more time until the end-date, the situation in the Commons does not appear to have improved. London brainstorms in order to gain an overall majority for the vote. Downing Street is, according to those familiar with the matter, considering an alternative approach that includes indicative votes for the Brexit agreement.
At present the options include May’s Withdrawal Agreement, the revocation of Article 50, the possibility of a second referendum, an agreement with the EU that would keep the UK in the customs union.
The latter option, along with remaining part of the EU’s single market would be welcomed along with a free trade agreement as a third country.
The other likely alternative is a no-deal Brexit.
A third meaningful vote would still be held, but the seven additional options would show the way forward for the Commons and the UK if the plan A fails. With the option of the indicative thematic votes still being under the radar, the UK remains committed to “facilitate a process” that should allow the House “to seek a majority on the way forward”, UK Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington said in remarks in the Commons.
Britain’s MPs could be given more opportunities to express their opinions about Brexit. The scenario is under discussion between MPs of the majority and the opposition along with May’s government officials.