Brexit risks: Extension date target must be hit

The EU has once again shown patience and unity by agreeing a Brexit extension until October 31. 

It is important, however, that this date should be seen as a limit and not as a target that it operates as a kind of British backstop that will give Theresa May the time and space she needs to try and negotiate a deal with the Labour Party.

While the decision by the British people to leave the European Union remains a matter of great regret, a much earlier exit by the UK would be preferable, or as Bob Dylan put it: “if you gotta go, go now”. 

While some form of extension was inevitable, a lengthy one is, nonetheless, a risky endeavour for a number of reasons.

In the first instance, there is no strong evidence that Theresa May will succeed in her endeavours. 

There are few EU leaders who are convinced that the inter-party talks between Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn will lead to a deal that the UK parliament will accept, no matter how long they continue.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Prime Minister May acknowledged that cross-party negotiations are not the norm among British politicians but expressed the hope that consensus could be reached and that both Labour and the Conservatives would compromise “for the sake of the country”.

That is the kind of wishful thinking that catapulted Brexit from a challenge to a crisis. 

Corbyn may not be the most astute politician but he is no fool, either, and must realise that, although it is important for him to be seen to be negotiating, he is unlikely to offer any major compromises on behalf of his party. 

Neither can he be expected to save the Conservatives from a political crisis of their own making.

Even if a deal is reached between Ms May and Mr Corbyn, it is likely to be for a soft Brexit that accords with Labour party policy, in which case it will, once again, be voted down by parliament.

A lengthy extension — or ‘flextension’ as Leo Varadkar is calling it — also raises the prospect of the British electorate voting in next month’s European Parliament elections in the knowledge that candidates elected will never take their seats. 

That will, in itself, undermine and risk making a mockery of the only truly democratic EU institution.

If the British end up taking part in the elections it will mean that hard Brexit politicians face the unedifying prospect of campaigning to be elected to an institution they despise.

Neither will such a campaign be likely to endear itself to the electorate in a country where, traditionally, voter turnout elections rarely goes above 70%. 

The 2016 referendum was exceptional, with a turnout of 72.2% in the UK as a whole but only 68.5% in Northern Ireland.

The reality is that there is that there is still no parliamentary majority for either a soft, hard or middling Brexit. 

That leaves only two possibilities: the UK crashing out of the EU or not leaving at all.

It could well be that the whole Brexit process is as doomed as Theresa May’s political future.

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