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Ultimate in Can Kicking

News reports suggest European Council President Donald Tusk plans to offer the UK a 12-month flexible extension ending automatically on ratification of the withdrawal treaty. Theresa May is open to the process. France is another matter.


The BBC reports that Donald Tusk is preparing to offer the UK a 12-month-long flexible extension. This is an offer Theresa May is apparently ready to accept. It would be guillotined: If, or when, the UK ratifies the withdrawal treaty, the extension would come to an automatic end.

As we pointed out, there are risks to such a process for the EU. Brexit would intrude in the European elections. The so-called Brexit betrayal would be an election theme in UK, and it might energise eurosceptics elsewhere too. The UK would take part in budget negotiations. And the Brexit issue will continue to distract. It is also not clear how the Tory party would react. We keep hearing about mass resignation threats.

For the EU, such a course of action has attractions, but comes at a price. The benefit is that it removes the possibility of a no-deal Brexit this year. It also gives everybody more time to prepare for no deal - and thus takes away some of the edge. Given the strong political support for a no-deal in the UK, we would not be surprised if a no-dealer like Boris Johnson were to win a Tory leadership contest, call and win a general election, and trigger a hard Brexit. The political consequences of Johnson possibly becoming a full voting member of the European Council are a factor that EU leaders might at least want to consider. The EU never runs out of road to kick the can down. The risks lurk elsewhere.

The second referendum will probably remain as an option, officially. We see no majority for it, especially now that it is no longer pitched directly against a cliff-edge Brexit. A group of 25 Labour MPs wrote a letter to Corbyn urging him not to accept a second referendum. The number of Tory supporters of a second referendum is definitely lower than 25 - and this only under a free vote.

The bigger risk to the May-Corbyn procedure is that even such an informal grand coalition might not command a majority in the Commons. The FT has done the math and concluded that a majority, while likely, cannot be taken for granted.

France Objects Already

European Council president Donald Tusk may be willing to grant a long extension, and May night go along. However, this is not Tusk's call to make. Such minor details never seem to stop politicians.

All 27 nations in the EU have to agree and France is making noises already.

It is easy to understand the French concerns. One Tweet from Jacob Rees Mogg is all it takes.

How to Make the EU Miserable in a Long Extension

May Asks for Extension

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Theresa May asks for an extension, but not the one Tusk wanted her to ask. Instead May asked for an extension to June 30.

Request Denied

The Guardian Live Blog reports EU ministers say May's letter to Tusk too vague to justify article 50 extension.

  • Norbert Roettgen, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the German parliament, said Theresa May’s request for an article 50 extension until 30 June made no sense and was motivated by “domestic tactical manoeuvring”.
  • A source close to President Macron told the agency that France was not ready to accept an extension of article 50 unless the UK presented a clear plan for the future and added: “We’re not there today.”
  • Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, told reporters in Bucharest: "If we are not able to understand the reason why the UK is asking for an extension, we cannot give a positive answer."

May Abandons Conservatives

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative backbencher and chair of the European Research Group, which represents up to 80 Tories pushing for a harder Brexit, told the World at One that Theresa May was abandoning the Conservative party by moving towards a softer Brexit. Asked if he had been rejected by the prime minister, Rees-Mogg said:

The prime minister is cutting herself off not from me but 70% of Conservative voters, according to opinion polls, and an even higher percentage of Conservative members.

It doesn’t seem to be very clever politics to alienate the bulk of your party to keep happy a few people who have never accepted the referendum result, and have spent their lifetime committed to the European project.

If that’s true, it’s not that I am being abandoned, it’s that the Conservative party is being abandoned.

May Hopped Into Bed With Corbyn

May abandoned the conservative party and hopped into bed with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

She is in the wrong party.

What I Would Do

I have no idea what's next, but I will tell you what I would do as a hardline Brexiteer: File a motion of no confidence against Theresa May right here, right now.

Yes, that risks elections but it also gets rid of some clearly unable to lead the party. The risk of not doing so is that May and Corbyn agree on a customs union that neither delivers the results of the referendum, nor adheres to the Tory party platform.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock