The EU increasingly believes a no-deal Brexit on 12 April is the most likely outcome, senior EU officials have said, prompting Emmanuel Macron to privately ask the Irish prime minister if his country could cope.
The French president sought assurance from Leo Varadkar in the closing moments of a marathon session of talks on Thursday night, as the leaders looked to settle on mid-April as the new cliff-edge.
“What will happen if there is a no-deal Brexit on 12 April?” Macron asked of the Irish taoiseach. “Would you be fine?”
Varadkar responded: “We can cope”.
The level of fatalism among the EU’s leaders was evident in the comments of the European council president, Donald Tusk, at the close of a dramatic two-day summit in Brussels.
Tusk expressed his satisfaction that “anything is possible”, including a revocation of article 50, following the leaders’ agreement to the unconditional period of extra-time.
Should the Commons vote down the withdrawal agreement next week at the third time of asking, the UK can stay a member of the EU until 12 April.
The British government could seek a further lengthy extension up to that point should a general election be called, a second referendum or a new political process that would guarantee a majority in the Commons for a deal. [Continue reading…]
EU leaders cannot say explicitly that they no longer want to deal with the current prime minister. Urging regime change is beyond the pale of normal diplomacy among democratic states. But there is no effort to conceal the frustration in May or the evacuation of confidence in her as a negotiating partner. The one thing everyone in Brussels, Berlin and Paris had most wanted to avoid from an article 50 extension was giving May a licence to carry on behaving as she has done for what feels like an eternity. They could no longer tolerate the hollow shell of a prime minister shuttling back and forth between Tory hardliners demanding fantasy Brexits and Brussels negotiators who trade in realities.
There is a difference between patience with the prime minister and readiness to help her country navigate through its current crisis. There are still stores of goodwill available for Britain in Brussels, but they cannot be unlocked by May.
The bankruptcy of May’s overseas enterprise has been coming since the day she set up shop in No 10. The squandering of credibility started almost at once, with the appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary in 2016. Only someone with a tin ear for European sensibilities would have given the top diplomat job to a man known on the continent as a rogue peddler of anti-Brussels propaganda.
Then there was the early negotiating period, during which EU leaders thought May’s robotic, inscrutable manner concealed a deep, strategic intelligence. They came to realise that there was no mask. The inanity – the reciting of “Brexit means Brexit” even in private meetings – was not the cover story for a secret plan. It was the plan. [Continue reading…]