The Malta Independent 18 August 2019, Sunday

Razor-edge dilemmas

Thursday, 4 April 2019, 12:14 Last update: about 6 months ago

The more the UK gets near the 12 April deadline for Brexit, the more people in the UK are panicking.

Any visitor to London can still see the London we know (and love) - people walking around, people enjoying the sun in the parks, massive traffic everywhere, etc.

But deep down there is a wariness, and a weariness. People tell you they are sick and tired of Brexit. What they do not tell you is they are concerned, some very concerned.

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There have been all sorts of rumours and reports - supermarkets with bare shelves, trucks finding it difficult to cross over to the continent, etc. People just do not know who are they to believe.

As we write, on Wednesday at 4pm, there is an equal chance of the UK crashing out of the EU next week, or of getting an extension, possibly a long one, at next week's EU summit.

Prime Minister May has lost any authority she may have had. The agenda for Parliament, a key prime ministerial prerogative, is now decided by the House. Members from either side of the House now meet with counterparts on the other side, and propose motions. So far, none of these motions has been approved by a majority, though some came close.

Consider, for instance, the announcement by May she was going to meet Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, for talks about breaking the impasse. She was immediately attacked by her own party. One even said Corbyn was the new deputy prime minister. Theresa May has been warned that a pact with Jeremy Corbyn to deliver a Brexit deal could destroy the Conservative party, as Eurosceptic MPs reacted with horror to her offer to work with Labour. One, Nigel Adams, resigned as a junior minister for Wales yesterday morning saying that, in trying to do a deal with a Marxist who has never once in his political life put British interests first", May was making a "grave error"

On his side, Corbyn was warned by people in his party that May intended to put him up as a fall guy to share some of the responsibility for this mess in people's eyes.

Corbyn was under intense pressure from supporters of a second referendum to block any Brexit deal that came without a public vote.

Any deal that could meet the acceptance of Labour would have to include a customs union - one of the five conditions Corbyn set out in his letter to the prime minister in February. Those also included stronger protections for workers' rights and environmental standards to be written into the non-legally binding political declaration.

The motion by the Conservative MP Ken Clarke recommending a customs union came closest to commanding a majority in Monday's process of "indicative votes", falling short by three votes.

There is also pressure from across the sea. A key ally of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has called for EU leaders to reject Theresa May's appeal for a further short delay to Brexit. Norbert Röttgen, a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union who heads the Bundestag's foreign affairs committee, tweeted yesterday morning: "In the current situation of deep institutional deadlock, there is no point in asking for another short delay of Brexit. EU should insist on long extension with participation in EU elections."

The EU could not impose a long extension on the British government as any decision would need to be endorsed by all 28 member states.

It could, however, present a long extension on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, leaving the British government with the option of leaving on 12 April without a deal - or signing up to a delay to Brexit of at least nine months and, more likely, a year or longer.

This would mean the UK taking part in the European Parliament election in late May. Speaking yesterday, May refused to rule out a European Parliament vote.

Even at this late hour, all options are on the table, even a No Deal one, despite a Parliament vote banning it. The coming days or hours are crucial in the history of the UK but also in the history of the relations between the UK and the EU, crucial too for the EU as a whole 
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