The Brief – Beware of Irish men bearing gifts…

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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.

In the parlance of ‘Yes, Minister’, Sir Humphrey Appleby would advise that extending the Article 50 process and remaining a formal member of the EU would be a ‘brave’ decision. That is code for guaranteeing the loss of the next election. But it may become a viable alternative if the next six months of talks fail to break the deadlock.

The Roundup

Demands for a transition period that binds Britain by the bloc’s laws for nearly two years after Brexit are about to being adopted today – a plan that is dividing the British government.

The Kremlin and Beijing were among the first to congratulate populist Czech President Miloš Zeman on his re-election in a cliffhanger vote.

In the Czech Republic, the euro has been fought against by those who do not like the idea of deeper European integration. Myths and false arguments often dog the debate, as centre-right MEP Luděk Niedermayer points out.

Read Jorge Valero’s interview with Ángel Gurría, secretary-general of the OECD. At the WEF he discussed how to tax internet companies, Europe’s future and the nuances of Trump’s ‘America First’ approach.

While several public health NGOs expressed their reservations about the rising tendency to use big data in healthcare, EU’s Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis praises its “immense potential” to protect and promote health.

The EU should not create an environment more favourable to generics compared to the innovative pharmaceuticals, as it would risk weakening Europe’s global strength in that area, warns Professor Adrian Towse in an interview with EURACTIV.com.

Air is getting thick for environment ministers as the WTO revealed a big smog problem blacklisting three Italian cities as the worst in Europe in terms of air pollution.

One year ahead of the change at the helm of the ECB, the speculation about Mario Draghi’s successor is in full swing, with one controversial name re-appearing in the discussion.

Look out for…

Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic in an energy conference in Zagreb.

Views are the author’s.

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