Monday 21 October 2019

John Downing: 'Things are finally moving, but the direction remains a mystery to us'

 

A sign displaying new orange and green lanes for entry into France and the EU is installed as part of new customs infrastructure in case of a 'no deal' Brexit at the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles, France. Photo: REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A sign displaying new orange and green lanes for entry into France and the EU is installed as part of new customs infrastructure in case of a 'no deal' Brexit at the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles, France. Photo: REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
John Downing

John Downing

Good news: the UK was supposed to leave the EU today, but its calamitous no-deal exit has been put back for at least a fortnight. Lesser good news: we'll be listening to this for quite a while yet.

But let's also keep looking for positives. Let's note that the most sluggish game on this continent of Europe for 33 months has finally begun to move. It's going somewhere, though we know not entirely where just yet.

Anyone for a very quick stock-take? Try this.

UK MPs are back at it today, trying to fix a further delay in this Brexit process until May 22, the eve of the country's mandatory European Parliament elections. The outer April 12 deadline, just a fortnight from now, is related to a UK and EU legal obligation to promulgate the holding of European Parliament elections in the UK on May 23.

The UK government might split out the two elements of the draft EU-UK divorce deal, done on November 25 at a leaders' summit in Brussels. Today, MPs may be asked to vote for only the 565-page less popular part, which sets out the EU-UK divorce terms, including the Border backstop, designed to keep the 1998 Good Friday Agreement alive.

It's a point where things go deeply technical and we wonder how many more years of life we have left. It remains unlikely that the embattled PM, Theresa May, can win - but if she did, it would mean the Brexit process could be delayed until May 22, the eve of the date by which the UK should, by law, hold elections for the European Parliament.

To overturn the last epic 147-MP defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement, Mrs May needs 75 MPs - mostly from her own party, some from Labour, and 10 Democratic Unionist Party members - to change their minds.

All of that is most unlikely to happen. But what will happen next?

Well, the focus is back to next Monday on the slow march towards some semblance of sense about a way forward. Over the weekend, key MPs across all parties are expected to work together on re-drafting something acceptable from the eight Brexit motions which were all rejected on Wednesday night in the Westminster parliament.

The focus will be on the three most positive outcomes of eight negative results: 1. A resounding rejection of a no-deal Brexit; 2. A very narrow defeat for the idea of staying inside the EU customs union, something which would be helpful to Ireland; 3. A narrow defeat for the idea of a second Brexit referendum.

Parallel to that comes the ramped-up British Conservative Party leadership contest, with Mrs May's stronger declarations that she will herself exit sooner rather than later. So, enter one Boris Johnson, who wrote as recently as Monday that Mrs May's deal was "rotten", an "utter humiliation" and a "democratic disaster".

Suddenly, he can somehow back that same deal - but apparently has told friends the deal is "dead anyway". Amazing what a whiff of a big job can do to change perspective.

Irish Independent

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