EUObserver has reported some interesting details of the process by which the EU agreed to extend the Brexit date to 31 October (https://euobserver.com/eu-election/144641). The special meeting of the European Council took place on 10th April, extending into the early hours of the 11th while they made up their minds.
We believe that the extension is made to encourage the UK to withdraw its Article 50 notice and to remain in the bloc. Either that or to force Parliament to accept the withdrawal agreement, which has been rejected three times so far but with reducing majorities against.
In its conclusions (https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/39042/10-euco-art50-conclusions-en.pdf) the Council acknowledges that “the European Council agrees to an extension to allow for the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement.” And “The European Council reiterates that there can be no opening of the Withdrawal Agreement, and that any unilateral commitment, statement or other act should be compatible with the letter and the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement and must not hamper its implementation.”
However, Donald Tusk the President of the European Council is reported as saying, “During this time, the course of action will be entirely in the UK’s hands” and “It is enough to find a possible solution. Please do not waste this time” (as if we were schoolchildren). This gives a quite different impression, for those who choose to be taken in with the idea that the UK has some room for manoeuvre beyond the three actual options: ratify the agreement as it is, withdraw without a deal, or withdraw the Article 50 notice. “The European Council notes that, during the extension … the United Kingdom has a right to revoke its notification at any time.”
These are, in fact, the only options the EU is ‘offering’ Britain. Tusk’s “entirely in the UK’s hands” is a characteristic EU twist on reality, as the UK’s hands have been well and truly tied.
The EU has said repeatedly that the only possible agreement is the one drawn up and agreed between them and the UK Government, often referred to as Mrs May’s agreement (see Draft Withdrawal Agreement: A Fatal Flaw and A Withdrawal Agreement). So Tusk’s words do not mean what he appears to want us to read into them – that the UK has room to come up with a new solution. The deception is both subtle and cruel, and it reveals the deep contempt in which UK citizens, and their government, are held by EU leaders.
Our interpretation is supported by an article in the EUObserver the day before, by the same author, who says, “…British prime minister Theresa May requested a second delay of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, until 30 June, to give time for her talks with opposition Labour to get a possible majority in the House of Commons for the existing negotiated Brexit deal.” (https://euobserver.com/eu-election/144635) “…member states are divided whether it is a short or a long delay that will spook MPs into ratifying the divorce deal…”. “EU officials also, however, warn the UK against going for a no-deal scenario and throwing away the withdrawal agreement…”.
Mrs May concurs, saying “I continue to believe that we need to leave the EU with a deal as soon as possible“. She continues to hope she can persuade Parliament to ratify ‘her’ withdrawal agreement earlier, so that Britain can leave the EU “with a deal” without the need to participate in the EU Parliamentary elections, scheduled for 23 May this year. This reverses her earlier ‘red line’, which she regularly repeated, “no deal is better than a bad deal”. Now a bad deal has to be sold as a good deal.
Prior to the Council meeting, 17 member states preferred an extension to Brexit for a full year but by decision time on the following day (11th April) they had been persuaded by President Macron to give no more than six months. “It was an amicable debate,” reported Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, though others thought that Macron had almost issued a veto on a longer extension, on the grounds that he needs to boost his own popularity at home. “We delivered the best possible compromise,” Macron said. “Unity doesn’t mean we are all on the same identical position, but it means we are always able to find a compromise,” said Tusk after the meeting.
One argument put forward for restricting an extension to Brexit is that, if it remains for too long in the EU, Britain will try to disrupt its business: “The European Council takes note of the commitment by the United Kingdom to act in a constructive and responsible manner throughout the extension in accordance with the duty of sincere cooperation and expects the United Kingdom to fulfil this commitment and Treaty obligation in a manner that reflects its situation as a withdrawing Member State. To this effect, the United Kingdom shall facilitate the achievement of the Union’s tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union’s objectives, in particular when participating in the decision-making processes of the Union.”
Of course they are not too fearful, as Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, said, “The possibilities for Britain to block decisions are very, very limited”. This is because most of the important decisions likely to come up soon will be decided by qualified majority voting (QMV), which is the mechanism through which the EU can get its own way more easily than the annoying unanimity that used to be required.
“EU sources also argue that if the UK wants to have a future trade deal with the EU, it cannot afford to upset its future negotiating partners, the EU-27.” (EUObserver)
We finish with a reminder from Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta, that, “A Brexit extension until 31 October is sensible since it gives time to UK to finally choose its way“. Of course “its way” is their way or ‘no way’, not even the highway.