The Brief – Avoiding the cliff-edge

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

The Brexit cliff-edge is now in sight and fast approaching. Who, if anyone, is going to apply the brakes?

EU leaders are likely to agree to Theresa May’s request for a short extension to Article 50 tonight.  Whether the extension lasts until before or after the European elections is largely immaterial. What appears certain is that it will be conditional on UK MPs backing the Withdrawal Agreement next week.

Although the threat of no Brexit will be enough to scare plenty of hard Brexiteer Tory MPs into backing her, May’s bizarre and frankly sinister speech on Wednesday night, in which she pinned the blame for the impasse entirely on MPs, only appears to have succeeded in hardening opinion against her deal.

The balance of probability is that MPs will reject the deal will for the third time.

It is what happens next that will be decisive. While some Brexiteers will back their PM out of fear of losing decades of campaigning to leave, others think the ‘no deal’ Brexit that they crave will be the result.

Remain supporters, some of whom gathered for a good-natured demonstration opposite the European Council today, believe they will then get a lengthy extension of Article 50, the end of May’s premiership and, ultimately, a second referendum.

May hinted on Wednesday that she would resign if she suffered a third defeat. Even if she tried to cling on, it is very hard to see how she could survive either a no deal or a lengthy extension, a course of action which a chunk of her cabinet refused to countenance earlier this week.

“We’re going to begin five days of crisis now,” said former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, himself a campaigner for a second referendum, who is convinced that the third rejection will inevitably lead to an application for a year-long extension of the Brexit talks.

But the hopes of Remainers are contingent on the rest of the EU not throwing in the towel.

The sense of exasperation among the EU-27 is intensifying, and grandstanding is not the preserve of British politicians. Arriving at the European Council, Emmanuel Macron told reporters that a negative vote from MPs would mean that “we will be going to a no-deal. We all know that.”

The frustration is understandable but is hard to see why EU leaders would join the UK in cutting their nose to spite their face. Certainly, the EU’s promise of solidarity with Ireland would instantly evaporate if they forced a ‘no deal’ scenario.

“An existential crisis will hit Ireland if there is a no deal Brexit,” Adonis told EURACTIV.

Richard Corbett, the leader of the Labour MEPs, is confident that the EU-27 will not push the UK off the cliff. “When it comes to it, no deal is bad for everybody and rather than go over that cliff-edge I am sure there will be some sort of agreement on an extension,” he told this website.

“The direction of travel is very clear. It is towards stopping Brexit. He (Macron) knows that, we know that. What we can’t do is say precisely how it’s going to happen,” added Adonis.

“What we need is time and space for that to take place.”

After two years of waiting for Godot, we are about to find out whether patience has run out, on both sides.

The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

Its that time in Brussels again: Council chief Donald Tusk dramatically upped the Brexit stakes, warning the UK that the EU will only grant May’s Brexit extension request if London’s lawmakers back the Withdrawal Agreement next week.

Confidential documents prepared in advance of a two-day EU summit in Brussels have exposed an East-West divide in Europe on climate change, with Germany siding with Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in their refusal to commit to climate neutrality by 2050.

In 1973, the sleepy English village of Ivybridge threw a week-long party to celebrate the UK joining what would later go on to become the EU. There was even a specially written anthem to accompany the festivities.

On another front: The EPP suspended Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party over alleged violations of EU rule-of-law principles in a compromise solution that allowed the party to keep its ‘bad boy’ in and bolster party unity ahead of the European elections.

The EU will give Chinese leaders a comprehensive list of demands next month to address the growing “frustration” among Europeans, and to improve bilateral cooperation as it reaches a critical junction, various senior EU officials explained.

Look out for…

Day Two of the EU summit. Hopefully, Brexit-free.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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