Monday 19 August 2019

Cormac McQuinn: 'An olive branch to the next British PM, but will he accept?'

 

Conservative party leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt during a head-to-head debate hosted by The Sun at Talk Radio in The News Building, London. Photo: Louis Wood/The Sun/The Sun/PA Wire
Conservative party leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt during a head-to-head debate hosted by The Sun at Talk Radio in The News Building, London. Photo: Louis Wood/The Sun/The Sun/PA Wire
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The woman who is likely to be the new European Commission president has offered an olive branch to the next British prime minister in her openness to consider an extension to the Brexit deadline.

In a letter to MEPs, Ursula von der Leyen said she would support moving the exit date beyond October 31 if "good reasons" for a delay were provided.

It's a pragmatic position and one that's in line with comments made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. He has previously suggested that another extension can only happen if there is a general election in the UK or a second referendum on Brexit.

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Both of these conditions would fit neatly into the category of "good reasons" to delay the UK's departure.

But it's far from certain that there will be a willing partner for kicking the Brexit can further down the road after the battle between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt for the keys of 10 Downing Street is over.

Let's take for a start the position of Boris Johnson. He has said Britain will leave the EU on October 31 without a deal if necessary despite all the chaos and economic damage a crash-out Brexit would bring to all sides.

In recent days he has repeated that the UK will leave on Halloween "come what may".

If Mr Johnson stays true to his campaign pledge to lead Britain out of the EU on October 31 deal or no deal, Ms Von der Leyen's overture will fall on deaf ears.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, meanwhile, is more cautious in setting a deadline. In an interview with the BBC he refused to guarantee Brexit will take place by Christmas but said he expects it will happen by then. But the trouble is, even if Mr Hunt would be prepared to offer some wriggle room on the Brexit date, Mr Johnson, who seems implacable on the issue, is by far the favourite to win the Conservative leadership.

In recent days Mr Varadkar has said that the next British prime minister faces a "very serious reality check" on Brexit once they're in office and briefed by officials. He suggested the contenders are campaigning in poetry but will have to govern in prose.

Presuming Mr Johnson wins the leadership race and takes office, the realisation of the stark impact of a no-deal Brexit on the UK - never mind Ireland and the EU - may or may not give him pause for thought.

Ms Von der Leyen's openness to an extension may appear the least-worst option for him as the deadline looms.

However, Mr Johnson will simultaneously be under pressure from the hardline Brexiteers who put him in Downing Street to live up to his campaign promise to leave the EU at the end of October.

Given the irrational way the Brexit debate has been conducted across the Irish Sea to date, it's by no means certain the voice of reason will win out. One thing is certain, we won't know whether Mr Johnson would ultimately grasp a last-ditch lifeline of an Brexit extension until long after the Tory leadership race is over.

Irish Independent

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