Whether you’re excited or terrified about the prospect of looming Brexit day, recent developments may have led you to question whether it will happen, as scheduled, on March 29th.
Over the last few months, Prime Minister Theresa May has remained adamant that the UK is leaving on the stated date, even if that means leaving without a deal. In fact, she has reminded us that she intends to remove the United Kingdom from the European Union on March 29th over 100 times, with an increasingly insistent tone.
In the last few days, the tone of the rhetoric has noticeably softened. No longer are we “definitely” leaving this month – instead, there’s talk of the government ‘aiming’ to leave on March 29th, and it still being possible to do so.
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Inevitably, any talk of moving the goalposts with the exit date leads to discussions of a delay and extension to Article 50.
May is now openly discussing the possibility of an extension, although her preference is for just two months. As has frequently been the case with Brexit, May has misjudged her authority – any decision on the length of an extension will not be hers to make.
The EU favours a longer extension period: in fact, up to two years. According to Michel Barnier, the EU might consider a “technical extension” – however, only if May’s deal is passed by parliament, and solely for ensuring that the necessary legislation is passed.
The EU proposal seems to be to remain in the EU for what would have been the transition period, while simultaneously being able to start discussions on future trading arrangements. This would allow time for a rethink and, perhaps, a softening of May’s red lines, should her deal fail to be accepted by parliament on March 12th when it returns to the House of Commons for the ‘meaningful vote’ mark II.
Speculation exists about the likelihood of parliament supporting the Withdrawal Agreement or – more likely – not. The European Research Group, headed by Jacob Rees-Mogg, has produced a set of three demands which must be met to gain its support. It seems unlikely that the ERG will receive the concessions it seeks around the backstop. The latest rumours from Westminster claim that May and her team are already planning for the ‘meaningful vote’ mark III. Surely, at some point soon, parliament will call a halt to the government’s shenanigans.
If May’s deal is defeated again in the House of Commons, she has already committed to giving parliament a March 13 vote on whether the government should proceed without a deal at all – the no-deal scenario feared by all but extreme Brexiters. May has, thus far, refused to say how she would vote or, indeed, whether the government would adopt a ‘no deal’ policy. This would be a day on which many Tory ministers, including several in May’s cabinet, would be likely to resign.
Part three of May’s proposal was that should parliament vote against her deal on March 12th, then against no deal on March 13th, another debate and vote would follow on March 14th.
This time, parliament would decide what happens next. With only two weeks to go, the expectation is that parliament would vote to demand May asks the EU to extend Article 50.
Amid the parliamentary activities of which we are already aware, it’s safe to say that more shocks and surprises are to come. Whether its further amendments that affect the direction of Brexit, or parliament attempting to wrest control from the executive by other means, the exact scenario is impossible to predict.
I’ll stick my neck out and say that, on March 30th, we’ll still be members of the European Union, enjoying all the rights and privileges associated with membership.
While many people will be asking “are we nearly there yet?”, I shall be celebrating the fact that Brexit could be further away than at any time during the last 18 months.
With a postponement, anything is possible – including no Brexit at all.
The sooner we can make no Brexit a reality, the happier I will be. I’d rather like to start enjoying my retirement!
By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain, a member of the British in Europe coalition.