If what Peston hears is true, the comfort blanket of a long extension of Article 50 has been swept from under MPs’ feet and a binary choice between No Deal and No Brexit is shaping up. If the EU grants only the shortest of extensions at their emergency summit to the end of May – to just after the European elections – the pressure will reach fever pitch for the Commons to agree a new deal centering on the customs union. The Cooper-Letwin backbench Bill passed late last night mandating the government to seek an extension provides some protection against No Deal. But if the UK fails to meet only a new short deadline from EU 27 set on Wednesday – shorter than Mrs May’s repeated request for the 30th June – we could still be facing a crash out at the end of May. The alternative- an imposed long delay with conditions – changes the dynamics but not the choices. For all the attempts to future proof any agreement before Mrs May resigns, it is a delusion to suppose that a new more Brexiteer prime minister could alter the basic realities.
From Paul Waugh of Huffpost
The impeccably sourced Alberto Nardelli at BuzzFeed says the latest EU plan is to offer May an extension until May 22 if her deal passes by this Friday. If it doesn’t (as is all but certain), the extension will be until December 31, 2019 or March 31, 2020, with a break clause if any deal passes earlier.
The Times reports one EU official basically saying if a new PM abandons May’s approach, they will refuse to hold talks about even a no-deal exit. “If there is a wild Brexiter as a new Tory PM, they would be able to do nothing until after March 31, 2020, unless they subscribe to the Withdrawal Agreement.
So whatever gives, the EU stay in control.
As the action focuses on Brussels, there is a certain air of unreality about the busy goings-on at Westminster. From the continuing failure to reach agreement in the talks between them, the government and Labour cannot be expecting a result by Wednesday’s summit. Mrs May will be entirely at the mercy of the EU leaders who have been demanding to see a British plan before they decide on the length of the extension. The EU leaders will have factored failure in but rather than show patience with a long extension with a break clause, they may up the ante and refuse to grant the prime minister 30 June a second time. Once was Mrs May’s humiliation, twice would be the abandonment of the EU’s expected tolerance for delinquent old friends and its replacement by the tough love of taking over the whole show.
For the Brexiteers now demanding her immediate resignation, she has already sold the pass by agreeing to hold elections to the European parliament, while still hoping to cancel them at the last moment if MPs can agree on a plan. Her hope seems to be that if the talks with Labour fail to reach that point today or tomorrow, they will at least agree to open up the choices to parliament. To break the deadlock and squeezed from both sides, the prime minster is said to be planning her own series of confirmatory votes, among them one on holding a second referendum.
Theresa May then has not quite given up hope of attracting some Brexiteers. Such a vote would be their last chance of rallying support.
But if a British plan fails to emerge by the end of May, the brutal choice is between abrupt exit from the EU, and revoking or cancelling Article 50, the Tories’ ultimate anathema. Brexit would be abandoned, contrived by the EU and instigated by the French president.
In an atmosphere of mounting pressure at Westminster, Micawberism reigns.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London