The Brief – Mother of all messes

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter [Photo: EPA]

Think of a boys boarding school crossed with a provincial amateur drama club and you get the idea of what the House of Commons is like these days: men in tights, testosterone-fuelled debates, ancient procedures and arcane language.

Yet odd as it is, the Commons is a wonderful place – it is a proper parliament. But, with a handful of honourable exceptions, Brexit has not brought out the best in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’.

Having grabbed control of the Brexit process from the prime minister, on Wednesday MPs then did their best to show why most Brits have despaired of them in the Brexit farrago.

After a four hour debate, MPs were given a piece of paper and told to vote on eight alternatives to Theresa May’s Brexit deal. One by one, options ranging from variants of single market or customs union membership, and a preferential tariff system, were rejected.

Plans for a second referendum and customs union membership got within a handful of votes of getting a majority. Most were decisively defeated.

Of course, Brexit being Brexit, repeated defeat does not mean that the process is over.

Having failed once, MPs will return on Monday (1 April!) to have another go at cobbling together a majority for one of the ‘hateful’ or ‘hopeful’ eight. They figure that since the prime minister’s deal has twice been rejected by huge majorities, they have the right to a second chance.

A few corridors away, the beleaguered May offered her resignation to her Conservative party in a bid to finally get her Withdrawal Agreement over the line. But as with everything Brexit-related, the resignation comes with a hefty caveat: she will only walk if lawmakers pass her deal.

But having publicly offered her head, May can no longer row back. She will be gone within weeks, regardless of whether her Brexit deal staggers over the line or not. A host of candidates are already preparing their campaign teams.

Barring a miracle, the Withdrawal Agreement will not be approved when it is brought back for a third vote tomorrow afternoon – the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party say they would still vote against it, and May is still a good 50 votes short.

That means that the first deadline, agreed as part of the Brexit delay at last week’s EU summit, will lapse.

That gives the UK until 12 April to leave the EU, pass the Withdrawal deal or come up with an alternative plan that is agreed by EU leaders, presumably at Mrs May’s final EU summit.

The chances of the UK making up its mind in two weeks are slim. That leaves EU leaders with a big decision to make: give the would-be divorcee more time (the Merkel approach), or nudge it off the cliff (Macron’s favoured option). That might save the European elections, but it would throw the Irish economy under the bus.

“There are no easy options. There are no simple ways forward,” Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay told MPs on Wednesday night. He was right. The same is true for EU leaders.

The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

Denmark decided it will not grant permission for a northern route of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, asking the Russian-owned company to look into a southern route instead – making a construction delay very likely.

Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz has called on Europe and China to join forces against the United States at the WTO, saying America has become a “free-rider” on climate change under the Trump administration, in violation of global free trade rules.

Romania could face legal action after environmental groups lodged a complaint with the EU over allegedly lax penalties against coal power polluters. Europe could be on track to slash emissions in half by 2030, while Europol helped unearth Dieselgate leftovers in Spain.

The Kövesi case keeps causing bad blood between the Council and Parliament who currently lock horns over the EU chief prosecutor choice.

The EPP has “lost all credibility and moral authority to lead the EU”, ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt has said following the EPP’s decision to suspend but not expel Hungary’s Fidesz party.

MEPs have launched ambitious plans for an EU law requiring companies to carry out human rights due diligence in their supply chains.

Ex-French President François Hollande, has given his two cents on Europe during a discussion with high school students. The French socialists, meanwhile, adopted a list of women and a list of men for EU elections.

Serbian citizens have been protesting for four months, asking the government to ensure media freedom, crack down on corruption and tackle issues like unemployment, poverty, and the young generation’s brain-drain.

Look out for… 

As British MPs failed to grab control over Brexit yesterday night, they will again vote again on Brexit tomorrow. Again. Remember that Theresa May offered to be gone before summer if her deal does somehow get the nod of the House.

Views are the author’s 

[Edited by Sam Morgan and Zoran Radosavljevic]

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