After another rough weekend of party infighting and renewed questions about her leadership (or lack thereof) UK Prime Minister Theresa May will surely take any help she can get. She should, however, beware Irishmen bearing gifts.
Brexit should be delayed until at least March 2021, so that an ambitious successor trade deal can be struck with the EU, former Taoiseach John Bruton said in a speech on Monday (29 January).
“Two years is not enough”, and “imposes a dangerous straight-jacket,” argued Bruton.
Bruton’s proposal is, of course, not entirely altruistic. Of the remaining EU-27, the Irish stand to lose the most from a ‘hard Brexit’ where the UK reverts to trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms. That, says Bruton, “would be really bad for the UK, and appalling for Ireland.”
Yet the idea certainly has some logic.
The chances of a new EU-UK trade deal being agreed and ratified by March 2019 are almost zero. That is why the two-year transition period became such a convenient fudge. The main argument in its favour, says Brexit Secretary David Davis, is that the UK cannot begin the process of striking third party trade deals until it formally leaves the bloc.
But the prospect of having to adopt new EU laws, paying into the EU budget and remain subservient to the European Court of Justice – the latter regarded with vampiric fear by eurosceptics – prompted a spat last week between Davis and leading hard Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said that it would make the UK a “vassal state”.
If the UK is going to continue paying into the EU budget and adopting EU laws, why not have a say in making them?
The timing could also work. The next UK election – should Theresa May’s administration last that long – is due in May 2022.
Logic is in short supply, however.
For the moment, while business leaders will be attracted to it, Bruton’s idea will have few takers among political leaders in either London or Brussels, though the UK’s 73 MEPs – who are currently facing a political death sentence in March 2019 – will surely endorse a temporary reprieve.
It is unlikely that May’s Conservative party could stomach EU membership until 2021 without ripping themselves apart. The Labour opposition, meanwhile, has taken a deliberate vow of silence on all things Brexit-related, calculating that May and her ministers should be allowed to stew in their own mess.
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Look out for…
Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic in an energy conference in Zagreb.
Views are the author’s.