13th April 2019
Donald Tusk, Theresa May and Angela Merkel indulge in Brexit banter
If there is anything that is close to rivalling the ineptitude of the British government it is the indecisiveness of the European Union. Faced this week with the opportunity to end it all, by pressing the Brexit button on 12th April, or offering a lengthy extension which would kick the Brexit can a long way down the road, the EU did neither. Instead UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, had her plea of a short extension till the 30th June returned to her in a Hallowe’en mask, with an offer of an extension till 31st October.
The absurdity of this position has been rehearsed throughout the media this week. It has however afforded the BBC in particular the opportunity to resurrect airtime for one of its darlings, Nigel Farage, trumpeting the launch of his latest vanity project, the Brexit Party.
Preparations are now underway for European elections on 23rd May, which the UK will contest unless, by some miracle, Parliament agrees a Brexit deal before then. If the UK were to fail to take part in the elections Britain would automatically leave without a deal, effectively being kicked out of the EU on 1st June.
European Council president Donald Tusk said the UK was expected to “continue its sincere cooperation” while it is still a member state. While Theresa May agreed the UK would continue to abide by its obligations, a tweet by Jacob Rees-Mogg MP on 7th April suggested that,
“If we are stuck in we must use the remaining powers we have to be difficult. Sincere co-operation so far seems to be a one way street.”
Needless to say, this caused much furore in Brussels in spite of Rees-Mogg’s relatively minor status in the scheme of things. The implications of Rees-Mogg’s comment was taken to be an indication of how a more hawkish successor to Theresa May could engage with Europe, should the Prime Minister be forced to fall upon her sword.
Of more concern across Europe is the prospect of the election on 23rd May returning a highly Euro-sceptic bloc of MEPs from across the Member states. With right wing governments in Poland and Hungary, the idiosyncratic nationalist Five Star Movement running the show in Italy, the fascist Vox party gaining seats in Spain and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (formerly National Front) poised to capitalise upon discontent in France, the EU project could look distinctly wobbly by the 24th May, whatever the state of play with Brexit.
The discontent in the UK could also provide oxygen for both UKIP and Farage’s Brexit Party. A low turnout may play to their advantage. Whatever the promises made by a British Prime Minister they are unlikely to play nicely if elected to an assembly they are dedicated to abolish. Quite what sort of political platform any of the major parties will stand on, to elect MEPs for what may be a five month period, will also be interesting to see.
Negotiations between the Tory government and the Labour Party appear unlikely to be fruitful given the intransigence of the Government. In spite of this the BBC, in the form of chief political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg, continue to characterise the negotiations as ones in which the Labour Party needs to give ground. Perhaps Kuenssberg’s much trumpeted break from Twitter will help clear her political head. Not something to rely on though.
Either way, most MPs are close to the end of their Parliamentary tether and are simply glad to be allowed a recess over Easter, before re-entering the Brexit fray on 23rd April. Depending on progress once Parliament returns a General Election is still an option, as the only real prospect of renewing both a failed Parliament and a failed government.
Weighing against this is the fact that the prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn victory is the only thread keeping the Tory Party together. However, even that thread could snap once the Brexit bartering resumes. A people’s government negotiating a people’s Brexit may yet be a possibility.