Editorial: 'Further extension to Brexit required'
The first task of the new prime minister of the UK should be to seek an extension to the already extended withdrawal agreement date of October 31. The two remaining candidates have, so far, failed to give a firm indication of such an intention. But there are only nine working days between the election of a new prime minister and the deadline date. Even if the European Union were minded to, such a short time frame does not allow for proper engagement let alone a new deal to be negotiated, as is the stated intention of the remaining candidates, particularly the favourite Boris Johnson. So, the first task will really be to 'get serious', which is a by no means certain outcome to the leadership contest under way in the UK.
Notwithstanding soundings to the contrary - the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar has said there is "enormous hostility" to extending the deadline - the EU should allow for such an extension, particularly if there is a reasonable prospect that the UK intends to engage productively on Brexit. As of now, it is difficult to determine the position of the UK. However, neither would it be good enough for the EU to stand back and shrug its collective shoulders at the psychodrama unfolding in the UK. There are many risks associated with being too complacent about the prospects of a breakdown in negotiations, not least a long-lasting rift with the UK with dangerous consequences for the western world.
However, should we take the two candidates at their word, that they will not seek an extension, the assumption follows that a failure to reach a deal becomes the most likely outcome, a risk that is growing by the day. As events may transpire in the House of Commons, this could lead to a general election in the UK sooner rather than later, with Brexit on hold until a new Commons may break the deadlock one way or the other. While this is inherently a gamble, such an election may prove the best option for Ireland's interests. Mr Varadkar may also use such an opportunity, should it arise, to go to the country here. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The possibility, however slim, remains that the EU and UK, under a new prime minister, will dress up the existing withdrawal agreement somewhat and present a new political declaration on a future trade agreement which might obviate the requirement for an election and no deal. That is to be optimistic, and this process so far has singularly failed to engender optimism.
In a process the outcome of which is notoriously difficult to predict, or assume, the EU can be expected to conclude that its best long-term interests are served by holding firm to its current position, and that it would be an error to produce something appreciably better to a new prime minister than was on offer to his predecessor. As the former UK ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers understandably, if pessimistically said last week, the reality is that the prospect of 'no deal' now holds many fewer terrors for the EU27 than much of the Tory leadership and membership believes. This is of cold comfort to Ireland, however. Mr Varadkar's task will be to make clear those risks for Ireland and to do all in his power and authority to avoid them.