Poor decisions and strategic errors from the very top of Government have defined the Brexit process

There are very few people who are willing to argue publicly that Brexit has been a smooth and easy process. Nor are many likely to say that it has gone the way that most Brexiteers anticipated. Over the course of the past three years there has been a series of poor decisions and strategic errors […]

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There are very few people who are willing to argue publicly that Brexit has been a smooth and easy process. Nor are many likely to say that it has gone the way that most Brexiteers anticipated. Over the course of the past three years there has been a series of poor decisions and strategic errors in the handling of Brexit. These events have left the UK with an appalling Withdrawal Agreement and a Government without authority or credibility.

Trying the same thing and expecting a different result is often quoted as the definition of insanity, and yet this is now the position of the Government. The Prime Minister intends to bring her Withdrawal Agreement back to the Commons for a third time; but it will not go through Parliament. It suffered the worst government defeat of all time, by 230 votes, and then the fourth worst, by 149 votes.

These were record government defeats and still, the Prime Minister insists upon a third Meaningful Vote even though “nothing has changed”.

This is a ridiculous position for the UK Government to be in, but it is hardly a surprise. The awful Withdrawal Agreement is the result of a Prime Minister making a litany of blunders in her handling of Brexit and refusing to accept that she, like most Remainers, has not understood Brexit. There is a reason that there are so few Brexiteers still in government.

The first sign of the current crisis was the disastrous 2017 general election. All anyone will truly remember from her campaign was her ability to trot out the same meaningless phrases of “Brexit means Brexit” and “strong and stable” despite the clear evidence that nobody believed in her or her position. Naturally, this played out with her blowing record poll leads and the first Conservative majority for almost 20 years.

It demonstrated to the EU her inability to articulate a clear, sensible Brexit policy that could unite the UK and Parliament.

This electoral and parliamentary weakness was then compounded by her decision to give in to the EU’s demands on the progress of negotiations against the advice of the Brexit Secretary at the time, David Davis.

This concession to the EU handed complete control of the agenda to the EU and set the tone for the future of the negotiations. This put the UK in the ludicrous position of being unable to negotiate future arrangements at the same time as its withdrawal, despite the inextricable nature of the future arrangements and the withdrawal.

Theresa May has had little to no control over her Cabinet and ministers, let alone her parliamentary party. Fundamentally, she is too weak to exert any measure of meaningful influence.

Theresa May recognised this weakness, which is why she sought to balance her Cabinet between Remainers and Brexiteers, to assuage both sides of her party and to prevent a split. However, this has been an awful mistake as it has allowed Remainers to hijack the Brexit narrative and push the Prime Minister away from delivering a true Brexit.

Moreover, this strategy has been ineffective as the Conservative Party is now more divided than ever between Brexiteers and Remainers. Theresa May should have backed the Brexiteers in her Cabinet and, by doing so, challenged Remainers to respect the referendum and manifesto or to rebel against the party line. I suspect that, when pushed, most Remainers would have fallen behind the sensible policies put forward by leading Brexiteers like Canada+ or MaxFac.

Moreover, it is mostly Brexiteers who have resigned, whilst high-profile Remainers have stayed within government. This is a telling indicator of both Theresa May’s weakness and the failure of her Brexit proposals.

There are two possible reasons that Remainers are not resigning: perhaps it is because they can snipe against Brexit with impunity or maybe because they know that the proposed Withdrawal Agreement could see us inextricably trussed to the EU – Remain by any other name.

Another issue with prominent Remainers in Cabinet has been the refusal to allow adequate preparation for No Deal. There have been several reports of the Chancellor withholding allocated funding for preparations for a move to WTO terms. The Chancellor is also ultimately responsible for the endless stream of economic propaganda about Brexit, a continuation of the discredited pre-referendum Project Fear – which has been proven so drastically wrong.

Of course, we must not forget that some of the problems in the Brexit process started before the referendum took place. It is a shameful indictment of David Cameron and his Government that they arrogantly refused to allow the Civil Service to start planning for potential Brexit options.

They disregarded the possibility that they could lose the referendum. After all, how could they? The Remain campaign heavily outspent the Leave campaign and had the benefit of official government messaging such as the Government’s leaflet, which cost taxpayers £9 million.

This Government is caught in a seemingly endless cycle of errors, mistakes and poor decisions with each new loop inexorably bringing the Government further away from the lofty heights that Theresa May once promised. But this crisis is one of her own making and the signs were there: we should have seen this coming.

Photocredit:  ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

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EU drops ‘neighborly cooperation’ hint to departing UK

Iceland’s prime minister says ‘we would be happy to talk’ with the UK.

After yesterday’s lengthy Brexit talks, European leaders dropped some not-so-subtle hints in London’s direction that sticking close to the EU club — even if not actually within in — comes with perks.

The European Council on Friday began its second summit day with a celebration of European cooperation, marking the 25th anniversary of the European Economic Area — the group of countries that includes all the EU members plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland.

It came on the morning after EU leaders granted a short extension to Brexit day, throwing a lifeline to MPs in the House of Commons who want to steer the government towards a closer post-Brexit relationship with the EU.

Speaking about the EEA’s achievements, Council President Donald Tusk lauded “the spirit of neighborly cooperation”.

“We should never take this for granted,” he told the Council and the leaders of Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, who had also travelled to Brussels to mark the anniversary.

“Even though some of us are outside the European Union, we do have a great cooperation” — Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg

“In a world of resurgent nationalism and authoritarianism… you have stood firmly on the side of wisdom, the rule of law, cooperation, and deeper integration among our nations,” he added.

Martin Selmayr, secretary-general of the Commission, called the EEA “a well tested, successful model for close economic integration.”

Arriving at the Council, the guest leaders also offered some words of advice for Britain.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg noted that cooperation with the EU and being a non-member were not mutually exclusive.

“Even though some of us are outside the European Union, we do have a great cooperation,” she told reporters.

Iceland PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir | Halldor Kolbeins/AFP via Getty Images

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stressed that working together with the bloc had been “very beneficial” and said the U.K. ought to think about “how to proceed” in terms of cooperating with Europe.

“We have valued the importance of European cooperation very much, even though we stand outside the EU,” she said. “That’s something the U.K. must think about — what the values of European cooperation are.”

Asked if she would welcome the U.K. into European Free Trade Association — made up of the three countries plus Switzerland — Jakobsdóttir noted that the four EFTA states had to abide by the four freedoms, including freedom of movement, which Theresa May has pledged to end.

But Jakobsdóttir added: “We would be happy to talk about that if that’s something the U.K. wants to talk about.”


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A reminder of why Theresa May’s deal is so unacceptable

We ask about any bad event – cock-up or conspiracy? With the Government’s Brexit negotiations, you get both. Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is no such thing; it is a Remainer Agreement, a legally-binding international treaty that can only be changed by the unanimous consent of the 27 EU member states. This proposed international treaty breaches […]

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We ask about any bad event – cock-up or conspiracy? With the Government’s Brexit negotiations, you get both. Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is no such thing; it is a Remainer Agreement, a legally-binding international treaty that can only be changed by the unanimous consent of the 27 EU member states.

This proposed international treaty breaches the referendum result in spirit and fact; it breaches the clear manifesto pledge of the Conservative Party during the 2017 election; it potentially results in Northern Ireland permanently remaining in the Single Market – creating a border between it and the rest of the UK; and it hands over a minimum of £39 billion of UK wealth for an Agreement worse than the status quo.

The EU/May Political Declaration commits us to ‘an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic cooperation, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of cooperation’, which would be membership in all but name.

It obliges us to ‘create a free trade area’, a ‘single customs territory’, ‘provisions to enable free movement of capital’, ‘a liberalisation in trade in services well beyond the Parties’ World Trade Organisation commitments and building on recent Union Free Trade Agreement’, and ‘a level playing field for open and fair competition’.

The Declaration proposes an ‘overarching institutional framework’ which ‘could take the form of an Association Agreement’. Association means Associate membership, which effectively means staying in the EU.

Paragraph 89 of the Declaration obliges the police to arrest people deemed to have committed ‘political offences’ – s kind of crime not known in our law. Remember, the EU’s Attorney-General has said that “Criticism of the EU is akin to blasphemy.”

Oddly, the Declaration proposes ‘developing alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland’, so they accept that we can avoid a hard border in Ireland with no need whatsoever for a backstop or a customs union.

The Agreement gives the EU a veto on UK withdrawal. If the current Withdrawal Agreement is passed into law, the UK cannot unilaterally withdraw from the Agreement. The EU can keep us in forever by refusing to revise the Agreement. It is a sham negotiation by both sides: the EU has got exactly the Agreement it wants. Why would they it change now?

It makes us a rule-taker in almost all areas of EU competence. Should it be agreed, Parliament would effectively be forced to accept, apply and obey whatever regulations the EU proposed and be bound by all rulings by the European Court of Justice. Contrary to the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech and manifesto pledge, the European Court of Justice retains de facto primacy over the UK, remaining the final arbiter of the Agreement and of the EU laws that affect us. Thus, the Agreement is remaining in the EU in all but name, but no longer having a say, thus breaking the spirit of the referendum result and the election manifesto promises.

The Agreement requires us to keep in regulatory alignment with the EU on matters such as agriculture subsidies and tax policy. This would effectively give the EU control over the UK’s economic policy. The UK would not be able to lower taxes and increase subsidies where necessary to vital parts of our economy.

We would be listed as a ‘participating state’ within the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, paving the way for us to having to contribute money to any Eurozone bailout. (The EU Civil Protection Mechanism was how we were forced into giving the Eurozone money after the 2008 economic crash.)

The Agreement stipulates the ECJ and the European Commission would be able to set the legal levels of our financial contributions to fund EU bodies which the Agreement commits us to be part of. In effect we would be handing the EU a blank cheque

It aims to retain some preferential treatment towards EU citizens from the other 27 Member States – specifically in areas of education and work. Why should EU citizens get preferred over those from the rest of the world?

The Agreement commits us to contribute towards funding and supplying our troops for any future EU military operations and commits us to sharing sensitive intelligence data with the EU after Brexit.

It commits us to sharing the sensitive data of our citizens with European databases.

We would hand over a minimum of £39 billion (and possibly as much as £60 billion) of taxpayers’ money to the EU without agreeing any future deal on trade, other than being tied to the current acquis communautaire in its near entirely. This is like paying for a house before you have seen the title deeds.

The Agreement includes future negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy (at the last minute and against all promises to the contrary) in the transition period the May government has guaranteed that access to UK fishing grounds will become a bargaining chip to be traded away, as President Macron confirmed immediately after the Withdrawal Agreement was signed.

By treating Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK, the Agreement raises the question of introducing a different deal for Scotland.

Article 18 of the Protocol says, “If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate measures.” So, in the event of any disturbance, of any kind, the EU has the right to act unilaterally in any way it sees fit.

Annexes 2 and 3 set out the core rules governing the single customs territory. The UK commits to align with the EU’s Common External Tariff, and with the Common Commercial Policy on trade in goods with third countries to the extent necessary give effect to these provisions. The text provides for the UK to remain within the EU’s trade defence regime for the duration of this Single Customs Territory regime.

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Draft text: EU offers Brexit delay to May 22

No further postponement possible if UK does not take part in EU election.

European Council President Donald Tusk proposed May 22 as the new Brexit date, with no further delay possible if Britain does not take part in the European Parliament election, according to draft conclusions of today’s EU summit seen by POLITICO.

British Prime Minister Theresa May had proposed an extension to the Brexit process to June 30.

“The European Council commits to agreeing, before 29 March 2019, to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week,” the draft conclusions say.

“Given that the United Kingdom does not intend to hold elections to the European Parliament, no extension is possible beyond that date.”

The pointed reference to May closing off the possibility of U.K. participation in the EU election highlighted the dismay among EU27 leaders that the British prime minister did not at least leave open the path toward a longer extension.

But if she fails to win ratification of the Brexit deal — which looks increasingly like a long-shot given animosity between May and the House of Commons in the last 24 hours — both sides will have to rethink their positions.

In the draft conclusions, the Council once again declares that the EU will not renegotiate the divorce terms included in the Withdrawal Agreement that they agreed with May back in November. “The European Council reiterates that there can be no opening of the Withdrawal Agreement that was agreed between the Union and the United Kingdom in November 2018,” the draft conclusions state.

One portion of May’s letter on Wednesday that troubled EU leaders was her declaration that intends to issue a an additional policy statement providing certain assurances to constituents in the U.K. Potentially to give the Northern Ireland assembly a role in approving regulatory changes the region would be required to adopt.

The leaders, in the draft conclusions, sought to prevent May from making any proclamation that would undermine the Withdrawal Agreement. “Any unilateral commitment, statement or other act should be compatible with the letter and the sprit of the Withdrawal Agreement,” the draft Conclusions state.

In the six-point draft document, the leaders also call for continuing to prepare for a worst-case no-deal scenario. “The European Council calls for work to be continued on preparedness and contingency at all levels for the consequences of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal, taking into account all possible outcomes,” the document states.

“The European Council will remain seized of the matter,” the draft conclusions state.


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Angela Merkel: ‘Orderly’ Brexit in UK and EU’s interest

EU27 leaders likely to grant UK a Brexit delay — as long as British parliament approves Theresa May’s deal, German chancellor says.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that EU leaders would approve a U.K. request for a three-month extension to the Brexit process, as long as the British parliament approves Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

“In principle, we can comply with that wish if next week we did get a positive vote on the withdrawal documents in the British parliament,” she said.

However, Merkel noted this would go beyond the date of the upcoming European Parliament election, and “that means the future and the legal certainty of the elections need to be respected.”

The chancellor’s comments, made in the Bundestag ahead of today’s EU summit in Brussels, echo the message from European Council President Donald Tusk Wednesday.

Merkel remains firmly against any no-deal Brexit scenario which, she said, would damage German interests as well as those of the U.K.

“I am still convinced that we need an orderly exit of the U.K,” she told German MPs. “This is not just in the U.K.’s interest … but it is also in the German interest, especially in the German interest and in the interest of the 27 [EU] member states.”

Merkel said EU27 leaders are also likely to agree to May’s request for “a positive decision” by the Council on the document agreed with the European Commission in Strasbourg that deals with the Irish backstop. “I believe I can say that the Council can comply with that request — at least from a German perspective,” Merkel said.

If May’s Withdrawal Agreement is defeated in the U.K. parliament, or if there is no third vote on it, Merkel said the EU “will then hold deeper discussions” and keep open the option to hold another EU summit before the due Brexit date of March 29.


Read this next: Jeremy Hunt: UK faces ‘extreme unpredictability’ if MPs reject Brexit deal again

Jeremy Hunt: UK faces ‘extreme unpredictability’ if MPs reject Brexit deal again

British foreign secretary warns it could lead to no Brexit or EU demands for a second referendum.

Britain faces a period of “extreme unpredictability” if Brexit is not resolved soon, U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned today.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today program, Hunt conceded that if Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is defeated for a third time next week, parliament could vote to cancel Brexit, or the EU could push Britain to hold a second referendum, though he said both these options are “unlikely.”

“Only a very limited list of things can happen [if May’s deal fails again],” Hunt said.

“Parliament could vote to revoke Article 50, which is canceling the Brexit process. I think that’s highly unlikely.

“There could be an EU emergency summit to offer us an extension, and we don’t know what the length will be and it could have some very onerous conditions, for example holding a second referendum. Again, I think it’s very unlikely parliament would vote for that,” he added.

“And then we have no-deal as the legal default on Friday. So the choice that we have now is one of resolving this issue or extreme unpredictability.”

May is attending today’s EU summit to ask for a three-month delay to the U.K.’s departure. European Council President Donald Tusk said Wednesday that the delay she seeks would only be approved by the EU27 if her deal is voted through by MPs in the House of Commons.

Hunt said he doesn’t want a no-deal Brexit, but no Brexit would be “a worse outcome because of the impact on our democracy. The choice is: Do we resolve this or do we have Brexit paralysis?”
He added that the process of negotiations “has sapped our national confidence, and we need to remember what we are capable of as a country. We have a chance now to resolve this and close this chapter and move on to the next chapter.”

Now is the moment for Brexiteers in Parliament to stay true and be brave

John Bercow certainly knows how to hog the limelight. The man who drones on and on, lecturing MPs about brevity, was at his grandstanding best in the House of Commons on Monday. But for once, I agree with him. It is wrong for the Government to keep asking MPs the same question in the hope […]

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John Bercow certainly knows how to hog the limelight. The man who drones on and on, lecturing MPs about brevity, was at his grandstanding best in the House of Commons on Monday. But for once, I agree with him. It is wrong for the Government to keep asking MPs the same question in the hope that enough of them will cave in under pressure. Just because the EU deploys the same tactic to deal with recalcitrant voters who have the audacity to vote “the wrong way”, it doesn’t mean that the Prime Minister should be allowed to get away with it.

Thankfully, Bercow’s intervention has spared us all another meaningful vote this week, and although I am sure it was not the Speaker’s intention to help Brexiteers in Parliament in any way, it might just work in our favour.

I have to say that I am disappointed with some of my fellow Brexiteers – many of them personal friends – who have decided to back Theresa May’s deal at this stage in the negotiations. They have their reasons, and I don’t doubt their commitment to the cause. No-one can say that Philip Davies is anything but a committed Brexiteer, and if anyone starts questioning that commitment, I will defend him. No, the reason why I am disappointed is because I feel that their tactics are wrong.

Theresa May has written her letter and is today going cap in hand to Brussels asking for an extension to Article 50 at the European Council meeting. Britain is in crisis, so she says – said as if she is an innocent bystander, not a protagonist of a deal that has been overwhelmingly rejected by MPs and is deeply unpopular with the majority of UK voters.

If she has any sense, she will say that the Speaker of the House of Commons has tied her hands; that she doesn’t stand a chance of getting the current deal through Parliament because he won’t allow her to. “If you want us to leave more or less on time (after a short technical extension), you had better give me something meaningful, otherwise there won’t be another meaningful vote”, she should say. She could use it as negotiating leverage.

The EU doesn’t want a no-deal Brexit which – despite how MPs voted last week – is still the legal default position in just eight days’ time. It doesn’t want a long extension to Article 50 either. It has offered us a truly awful deal that it wants MPs to approve. The EU has to contend with elections this year which are bound to increase the number of eurosceptic populist MEPs. It doesn’t want more of them from the UK. A new Commission has to bed in and doesn’t want to have to continue Withdrawal Agreement negotiations with the UK. It is far better to give some more concessions that will command majority support in the House of Commons (knowing that it still has by far the best part of the deal) than to allow negotiations to keep dragging on.

So please, Brexiteers in Parliament, stay true and be brave. I know that you are facing pressure left, right and centre. The whips are on your back; retired politicians are busy writing op-eds telling you to cave in; newspaper editorials are urging the same; and one of your number, Andrew Percy, the co-chairman of the misnomer that is the Brexit Delivery Group, has accused you of idiocy for holding out. Don’t listen to them. You know that this deal is awful. You know that it is the worst kind of Brexit in name only. Like me, you are probably resigned to not getting the Brexit that you want. You know that you will have to compromise, but you shouldn’t compromise until the second you have to.

MPs will vote again on Theresa May’s deal next week after the EU has made some tweaks, despite what Bercow said on Monday. The Government will get around it with another one or two pieces of paper from the EU. If it is still a bad deal, they should vote it down. Watch the EU stop the clock on 29th March if it has to, and watch them make more concessions. Please remember that the EU has invested an enormous amount of time and effort into these negotiations, too. Theresa May doesn’t want to throw away more than two years of work, but neither does Michel Barnier.

It has to be made clear that the implementation period must be time limited and there must be alternative arrangements to the Irish backstop for the deal to go through. It still won’t be my kind of Brexit, and it still may be a poor deal, but it will be much better than it is now. Importantly, we won’t be trapped.

Now is not the time to give in. There may be just eight days to go, but these negotiations are far from over. Now is the time to fight harder than ever before.

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Theresa May blames MPs for Brexit delay

The UK prime minister said the delay was ‘a matter of great personal regret.’

LONDON — Theresa May blamed MPs for her request to delay Brexit for three months, warning the public was fast losing patience with the “political games” in Westminster.

In a rare address to the nation Wednesday night from inside Number 10 Downing Street, the U.K. prime minister said her application for an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period was “a matter of great personal regret” but was necessary to deliver Brexit.

The short five-minute address came after another day of high drama in Westminster in which she hinted she would quit rather than delay Brexit any further.

Speaking from behind a lectern inside No.10 Downing Street the prime minister said: “You the public have had enough… I agree, I am on your side.” She added: “You asked us to get on with it, and that is what I am determined to do.” A longer delay would only serve to “give more time for politicians to argue,” she argued.

May’s statement to the nation came after she warned MPs earlier in the day she was not prepared “as prime minister” to delay Brexit any further than three months.

The remark sparked immediate speculation she will quit if parliament votes down her deal for a third time, leaving only no-deal Brexit or a second request for a much longer extension the remaining options without halting Brexit altogether.

“Prime Minister May’s proposal until the 30th of June, which has its merits, creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature” — Donald Tusk

Extending beyond July would mean the U.K. taking part in elections for the European Parliament in May — a prospect May said was “unacceptable.”

Responding to May’s request for a short extension to the end of June, European Council President Donald Tusk said this would only be granted if the House of Commons passed the prime minister’s deal before March 29. Tusk’s intervention effectively presents MPs with a choice between May’s deal, no-deal and an uncertain lengthy extension which will be determined by EU leaders.

British Prime Minister Theresa May | Leon Neal/Getty Images

In his statement, Tusk said details about an extension remained to be discussed but that EU27 leaders could not make any decisions until the House of Commons voted to approve the Withdrawal Agreement and accompanying Political Declaration.

“Prime Minister May’s proposal until the 30th of June, which has its merits, creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature,” Tusk said. “Leaders will discuss this tomorrow.”

In her letter, May said she hoped to bring her deal back for another vote but could not say when, or even if it would happen before the existing Brexit deadline of March 29.

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EU has no choice but to approve Brexit extension

Leaders are unlikely to take a final decision on a Brexit extension at the European Council summit Thursday.

PARIS — No matter how exasperated European Union leaders may be over Brexit, when it comes to Theresa May’s request to delay the U.K.’s departure, they have little choice other than to give the British Prime Minister what she wants.

Despite an escalation in rhetoric by leaders across the Continent, this is one place in the two-year negotiations where the U.K. holds the upper hand.

Frustrated EU governments have been blowing hot and cold, demanding that May give them a clear reason for seeking extra time beyond the March 29 deadline the U.K. set for itself. They have asked her to explain how she plans to break the deadlock in the House of Commons, which has twice rejected the Withdrawal Agreement she negotiated with the EU last November.

“If they want a delay, the British have to explain how they plan to ensure a different outcome,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, comparing May to a “Monty Python” film character, who refuses to admit defeat even after losing all his limbs in a sword fight.

Theresa May as the Black Knight from the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” | Illustration by Brett Affrunti for POLITICO

France’s Europe minister, Nathalie Loiseau, said the U.K.’s reasons for submitting a request would have to be “credible, purposeful and supported by a majority.”

Responding to May’s extension request on Wednesday, European Council President Donald Tusk said that granting it would be conditional on ratification of the Brexit deal by MPs. “I believe that a short extension will be possible, but it will be conditional on a positive vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons,” he said.

Yet despite the rhetoric — and the fact that an extension requires their unanimous consent —  EU leaders have less leverage to force May’s hand than such statements imply. They can say “yes” or “no” to Britain’s request for a short extension (which May submitted formally by letter Wednesday). They can question her at Thursday’s summit about her intentions. And they can in theory set a different duration of delay to whatever she requests, to suit themselves rather than Britain. They may hold back their consent until the last minute next week, but ultimately, they will have to comply with her request.

No EU country wants to be blamed for precipitating a no-deal Brexit that would inflict severe economic damage not just on the U.K. but also its nearest neighbors, especially Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. So, no one is likely to veto a postponement if London requests one.

“They have no legal right to set any conditions” — Jean-Claude Piris, former head of the legal service of the Council of the European Union

Nor does the EU have any right to impose terms on May, such as holding a second referendum on whether to leave the bloc at all, calling a general election or abandoning some of the red lines she set before the negotiations began. Doing so would not only violate British sovereignty; it would also set a precedent that could rebound on other member states in future.

“They have no legal right to set any conditions,” said Jean-Claude Piris, the revered former head of the legal service of the Council of the European Union. “However, they could set a different period from the duration she requests, and that could be very important.”

European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair the summit, suggested before touring key capitals this week that the EU should be open to considering “a long extension if the U.K. finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.” That seems to reflect wishful thinking in Brussels that the Brits could choose to stay if given enough time.

It also seems unlikely. Opposition is rising in Westminster and Brussels against an extension long enough to require the U.K. to elect representatives to the European Parliament in May.

And while a longer delay until the end of this year would allow time for a second referendum or a general election, it would have many drawbacks.

For London, participating in the European Parliament election would be politically embarrassing and might trigger a protest vote that would make any agreement harder.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads the European Research Group of Euroskeptic Tories, is firmly against an extension of Article 50 | Georgia O’Callaghan via Getty Images

From the EU’s standpoint, the more serious danger is that as a full member, Britain would be in a position to use its right of veto to obstruct negotiations on the Union’s future seven-year budget and try to blackmail the 27 into concessions on future relations.

While the U.K. has made no such move in the last two years, some radical Brexiteers in May’s Conservative Party are already demanding that London play much harder hardball with Brussels and maximize its nuisance power.

Diplomats say a final decision is unlikely to be taken at this week’s summit. EU leaders will more likely identify a course of action to be implemented at the very last moment by a written procedure — or possibly a hastily arranged emergency summit — depending on what happens in the rollercoaster politics of Westminster next week. But we can expect the final result to be a short extension.

While the 27 have insisted the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened, a three-month delay would nonetheless allow time for the two sides to move closer to an agreement.

May could consult parliament on options for longer-term relations and then renegotiate parts of the political declaration on the U.K.’s future relationship with the EU. The EU could also spell out more specifically the intended future trade framework in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of having to enforce the so-called Irish backstop.

The EU must give the U.K. a last chance to stop procrastinating.

That could help May convince the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party, on whose support she relies in parliament, that the divorce deal does not pose a mortal threat to the unity of the U.K. It would also sufficiently modify the package put to the House of Commons to pass Speaker John Bercow’s test that parliament cannot vote again on the same document.

The EU should take the threats of a Brexiteer-led disruption seriously and limit an extension to three months to keep the heat on parliament to make its mind up. Britain needs an incentive to decide between the very different versions of Brexit endlessly but inconclusively debated.

But the EU must also give the U.K. a last chance to stop procrastinating, choose one kind of cake and eat it, or go cakeless over the cliff.

Paul Taylor, contributing editor at POLITICO, writes the Europe At Large column.

Donald Tusk: No Brexit extension without green light for deal

The European Council president said an extension was “conditional” on a positive vote for the deal in the House of Commons.

Theresa May’s request to delay the U.K.’s departure from the EU will only be granted if the House of Commons passes the Brexit deal agreed between London and Brussels, European Council Donald Tusk said Wednesday.

Responding in a brief statement to U.K. Prime Minister’s request to extend until June 30 the deadline for the U.K.’s departure, Tusk said such an extension could win approval in Brussels but only upon ratification of the withdrawal deal, which the House of Commons has rejected twice with huge majorities against it in January and March.

“Today I received a letter from Prime Minister May in which she addresses the European Council with two requests, to approve the so-called Strasbourg agreement between the U.K. and the European Commission and to extend the Article 50 period until 30th of June, 2019,” Tusk said.

“Just now I had a phone call with Prime Minister May about these proposals. In light of the consultations I have conducted over the past days, I believe that a short extension will be possible, but it will be conditional on a positive vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons.”

In her letter, May said she hopes to bring the treaty back for another vote but that she could not say when, and even expected it could not happen before the existing Brexit deadline of March 29.

Theresa May has asked for extra time | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Tusk, in his statement, said details about an extension remain to be discussed but that EU27 leaders could not make any decisions until the House of Commons votes affirmatively to approve the Withdrawal Agreement and accompanying Political Declaration.

“Prime Minister May’s proposal until the 30th of June, which has its merits, creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature,” Tusk said. “Leaders will discuss this tomorrow.”

He said he believes leaders would be willing to approve the so-called Strasbourg agreement in which European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offered additional reassurances on the Northern Ireland backstop provision, which is designed to avoid the need for a hard border in all circumstances. Those assurances failed to sway enough votes in the U.K. parliament, which swiftly rejected the deal before going on in subsequent votes to also reject the prospect of a no-deal exit, and to endorse the idea of an extension.

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