On March 14, I wrote Expect 4th or 5th “Meaningful” Vote and a "Conditional" Extension.
The consensus opinion then, and perhaps even still today is that the EU would automatically grant the UK an extension, even a long one. All May had to do was ask.
This view stems from statements made by Donald Tusk, the European Commission President. As a legal matter Tusk is not in control of the process. All 27 nations have to agree to an extension.
Conditional Extension In Play
Today, the French Europe Minister, Natalie Loiseau, said that any Article 50 Extension Must Have "An Objective and a Strategy".
Asked about the possibility of the EU granting an extension to Article 50, she said: "Grant an extension - what for? Time is not a solution, it’s a method. If there is an objective and a strategy and it has to come from London."
France Ready to Veto Any Meaningless Brexit Delay
Reuters reports France Ready to Veto Any Meaningless Brexit Delay
France is ready to veto any British request for a Brexit delay that either kicks the can down the road without offering a way out of its deadlock or imperils European Union institutions, an official in President Emmanuel Macron’s office said on Tuesday.
Asked about a possible French veto, the official said: “it is a possible scenario, yes, if the conditions for an extension are not met.” Any extension has to be approved by all 27 EU members remaining in the bloc.
Macron, an ardent Europhile, has championed an EU refusal to reopen at the eleventh hour Britain’s withdrawal agreement, the result of more than two years of hard-fought negotiations.
The presidential aide [perhaps Natalie Loiseau] said France would assess any request for an extension against two criteria:
- Is there a credible British plan, or strategy, that can win a majority in Westminster
- What will the impact be on the smooth running of Europe’s institutions?
Those are the conditions I envisioned previously. While Tusk may be willing to risk the UK making a mess of things in the next European Parliament, it appears France isn't. Point number 2 is in direct reference to the next EU parliament elections.
Tusk's position all along was that if Brexit could be delayed long enough, there wouldn't be one. Many UK remainers are of the same belief.
But unless there is a request to withdraw article 50, a new referendum, acceptance of May's agreement, or another proposal the EU can accept, there may not be an extension at all.
May Requests Long and Short Extension
EU Brexit negotiator mocked Theresa's May proposal for a long extension and a short one too. "You said both short and long, well, it’s either one or the other, isn’t it?"
The Guardian Live Blog has more amusement.
Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, will not have the final say over whether the EU grants the UK an article 50 extension, because the decision will be taken by the 27 heads of government on the European council, who are well above Barnier in terms of seniority.
Barnier did not seem to be laying down any impossible red lines for Theresa May. But he was more negative about the case for an article 50 extension than Number 10 might have expected, and his comments should quash Brexiter claims from people like David Davis (here) and Boris Johnson (here) that Brussels will blink at the last minute.
Making links out of "here" and "here" is amazingly lame and even misses a key point of Davis and Johnson. Neither wants a long extension.
The default position remains no-deal Brexit. Davis and Johnson may not even believe the EU will blink. And because the default position is Brexit, they may very well hope the EU doesn't blink if a long extension is off the table.
One of May's negotiation tactics has been to threaten Tories with a long extension and possible revocation of Brexit.
If France is willing to take a long extension off the table, the odds of no-deal just rose.
Barnier clarified the position of the EU in today's statement
Extending the uncertainty without a clear plan would add to the economic cost for our businesses but could also incur a political cost for the EU.
EU leaders will need a concrete plan from the UK in order to be able to make an informed decision. And key questions will be: Does an extension increase the chances for the ratification of the withdrawal agreement? Will the UK request an extension because it wants a bit more time to rework the political declaration?
More Ambitious Relationship
Ladies and gentlemen, I recall that this Political Declaration, which sets out the framework for our future relation, could be made more ambitious in the coming days if a majority in the House of Commons so wishes.
If not, what would be the purpose and the outcome of an extension?
And how can we ensure that, at the end of a possible extension, we are not back in the same situation as today?
In a Q&A following his statement Barnier offered this comment.
"Because an extension will be something that will extend uncertainty, and uncertainty costs. It has a cost for everybody. And we can’t prolong uncertainty without having a good reason for it."
Meaning of Ambitious
More Ambitious relationship means staying in the EU, and possibly a customs union along the lines of a Norway agreement.
I remain skeptical that a Norway agreement is possible. The UK would have to ask for that, all 27 nations would have to agree, and if it meant inclusion in the EFTA, then Norway would have to agree unless it was a stand-alone new agreement.
Norway does not want the EU making a mess of things.
Eurointelligence still believes May's deal is the most likely outcome followed by Norway, then no-deal. I have Norway third. Here's why.
The official position of Labour is a customs union. Most Tories and DUP are unlikely to vote for a customs union for that reason alone.
Labour is not a cohesive body in and of itself. Some want to remain, but a significant number want to leave.
It does not appear there is a majority in favor of a customs union. But if it gets close, Tories, DUP, and enough Labour MPs are likely to back May's deal.
As long as no other option is close to majority, no-deal remains in play.
Yesterday's Meaningless Action
Most commentators went gaga over the ruling but I pointed out there were four ways around the ruling, including queenly intervention, and that there would still be one more vote, at least.
This morning, Eurointelligence offered some amusing anecdotes.
We could, of course, give you a detailed explanation of the archaic rules of the House of Commons. On second thoughts, we would probably do our readers a much greater service if we explained the rules of cricket - if only we knew them.
This leaves us with the dry observation that yesterday was an entertaining, but ultimately not important day in the Brexit process. If Theresa May manages to assemble a majority in favour of her deal, she will also have a majority to overrule Mr Speaker’s decision not to allow multiple votes on the same question. A diminished hardcore group of Tory MPs remains opposed. And the DUP is not yet on board. And, as the Times writes this morning, May can always escalate to the nuclear option of prorogation (don’t ask!).
In substance, we are today in the same place as we were yesterday.
I believe the "nuclear" option refers to having the Queen give a speech, declaring a new parliament. There are no delays in this. Nor is there a public vote. It's simply a new parliament so May's bill would be a new bill in a new parliament, not the same bill presented again.
Prepare for No-Deal
No deal will only be off the table when the UK agrees to something acceptable to the EU.
Today, France and the EU ruled out a lengthy extension. The events of the last two days make a no-deal Brexit a bit more likely.
It all depends on how well DUP and the hard-core Tories stick to their plan.
It appears France aided the no-deal cause today. It certainly didn't hurt.
A third vote will be closer. How close remains to be seen.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock