Tuesday 20 August 2019

John Downing: 'We've come full circle in Brexit mess as no-deal edges closer'

An anti-Brexit sticker is pictured on Westminster Bridge in central London. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
An anti-Brexit sticker is pictured on Westminster Bridge in central London. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
John Downing

John Downing

The brief but blessed Brexit silence is over. Theresa May is back at work and we're told she is ringing around the EU capitals trying to get help to somehow lug her unloved draft EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement through a very divided British parliament.

The EU Commission has said a big 'Non!' to the prospect of any more concessions for Mrs May. It has also said it does not plan any special leaders' summit and there are no further negotiations.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says he's confident the deal - which also ensures no hard Border in Ireland - will stand. But just to be sure, he's in Munich today for the German Christian Democrats' annual conference.

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It's a major step in Chancellor Angela Merkel's long goodbye and it's a chance for the Taoiseach, who is also addressing the conference, to meet her successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. There are worse ways to start a new political year and he will get a good insight into all the infighting in his German allies' ranks at a time of considerable change.

On December 11, Mrs May pulled the expected vote amid signs she would lose her ratification bid by some 150 votes. Hard to see what has changed since then beyond a pumping-up of the volume in warnings about the dangers of a no-deal Brexit.

We will hear much more about this next week as the British government plans an information blitz aimed at business, EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the EU, about what they need to know about a no-deal Brexit. Things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better between now and the end of this month.

Already, the uncertainty has been compounded by former Brexit minister David Davis urging that the Westminster vote, which we expect within the coming fortnight, be further postponed.

We have noted before there is no majority among the 650 UK MPs for a no-deal Brexit, which would wreak havoc on both these islands.

But thereafter you can guess that up to a quarter of the parliament would go for another referendum.

About one-third of MPs would like to see the Article 50 Brexit process stalled - but that requires London to formally seek an extension and the unanimous approval of the other 27 member states.

Finally, it's fair to guess that about one-third of MPs want a soft Brexit with an EU-UK relationship mimicking the EU-Norway relationship. The problem there is that the UK would first have to accept Mrs May's draft deal before that Norway scheme could be negotiated.

Attentive readers will have noticed that we have come full circle. That is the dreary story which is Brexit right now.

But, alas, there is no prospect of shutting this one out - it's going to cost us all.

Irish Independent

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