Brexit is doing untold harm to countless EU and UK citizens whose livelihood is – or will be – adversely affected, by prolonging unnecessarily the current destabilizing uncertainty. In addition, it makes Europe particularly vulnerable to the numerous geopolitical developments and/or external social, economic, or financial shocks lurking under the horizon.
Rather than reveling in imagining various more or less credible scenarios that might unfold over the next few weeks, it is time to focus on a proposal that hopefully brings this tragic saga to a conclusion.
Preempting the European Council meeting of October 17/18, the Prime Minister should send, by the end of this week, a letter to its President, Donald Tusk, requesting formally an extension beyond October 31st of the UK’s membership of the EU (in accordance with Art 50 of the TEU), provided that the British Parliament had voted before October 30th the dissolution of Parliament (in accordance with the “fixed term Parliament legislation) and undertaking irrevocably to set a date for a general election to be held prior to November 30th.
1. Failing to secure the dissolution and calling an election, the UK would leave the EU on October 31st with “no deal”. In the interim the Parliament could adopt a deal (presumably the May deal?) or rescinded definitively the British Art. 50 notification of March 30th 2017. The responsibility for “no deal” would then rest squarely on the shoulders of those MPs who voted against dissolution.
2. The EU would consider its answer during the forthcoming summit. Granting the extension would be subject to the following additional conditions:
a. The extension of EU membership would end – with or without a deal – at the latest on January 31st 2020; until then the UK retains all its privileges.
b. The EU would not consider any further request for an extension of the UK’s membership.
There are many advantages to this process:
a) It allows the PM to remain fully in compliance with the current UK legislation (Benn Act)
b) It confirms the UK’s exit – as promised by Boris Johnson – on October 31st if parliamentary elections to be held prior to November 30th are not mandated irrevocably before October. 30th.
c) It is coherent with the PM’s twice rejected call for dissolving Parliament and holding elections. If Parliament rejects a third time it would be voting itself for a “no deal” exit and would have the responsibility for the consequences! (None for the EU!).
d) It forces the British political parties to clarify their position on “Brexit” in their respective manifestos ahead of the ensuing elections.
e) It gives time to implement the “will of the people” as expressed in the elections in accordance with the manifestos.
f) It provides for everyone a final certain date ending the suspense.
This irreversible and time limited framework, will of course be opposed by those who were sitting on the fence or pursuing hidden agendas because it leaves them nowhere to hide.
Labor would prefer to decide its Brexit stance “after” an election. Such a posture is likely to compromise their hopes of winning the election. It might also put some Tories on the spot: would die hard Brexeteers vote for dissolution when voting against gives them the “no deal” exit they crave on October 31st? The PM would be expected to enforce a three line whip in favor of dissolution or loose the small amount of credibility he retains if he contrives the loss the dissolution vote!
From the EU’s point of view, rather than just agreeing a new end date (as happened last March), the process provides for the first (and last) time a clear path to settling the UK’s status. It provides the necessary justification (elections) why the EU27 should compromise one last time to preserve the unanimity required to implement the procedure.
Having written the legally required extension letter, the PM could decide on purely political/electoral grounds whether he would plan to attend the EU Summit or not.
For Boris Johnson, the downside of taking this initiative, prior to the next Council meeting, is that the EU would certainly be further encouraged to reject the amendments to the W/A put forward last week; however, at present these seem doomed in any case. He would then, also have to determine what kind of Brexit the Tories should support in their manifesto, facing the obvious dilemma of recommending a hard “no deal” Brexit to counter a Farage “Brexit party” vote or a softer version in the hope of limiting defections to the Lib-Dems!
It is high time that politicians on all sides put an end to this poisonous procrastination that only aggravates the harm being wrought on the many UK and EU citizens alike, who are directly or indirectly affected by the final outcome; furthermore, it deprives the remainder of the population of the expectation that their legitimate priorities are being considered both by the EU and their respective 28 national governments!