It is difficult to imagine a more insulting act by a head of government than to send a formal letter on headed notepaper purporting to come from his office and person, but omitting to sign it as a means of authenticating it. And then to send another signed letter saying something quite different.
It is the very essence of duplicity. You are either a democrat taking full responsibility for the acts of your office as mandated by your law and parliament or you are a worthless and untrustworthy operator. In declining to respond anytime soon, the EU is actually acting with great restraint. It could have returned the unsigned letter to sender requesting due authentication by signature.
Many people have suggested, here and elsewhere, the EU should put this whole sorry saga to an end, refuse to extend Article 50, and focus on other more urgent and productive tasks. But there is no need for the EU to concern itself unduly with Brexit (or the UK) from here on in. There is nothing stopping it focusing on other tasks while assigning some junior official to “Brexit watch” and liaising with the UK government.
The current paralysis is preferable to a no deal Brexit and is hurting the UK far more than it is hurting the EU. Far from putting the UK out of its misery, the EU should insist on a lengthy or even indefinite Article 50 extension and just keep the UK dangling on a string until such time the UK has a coherent government, policy, and parliament.
Nothing would annoy Boris more, and it puts the ball back firmly in the UK court. The EU should disband Barnier’s team as there can be no further re-negotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement version 2.0. The UK should be consigned to limbo until such time as it makes a decision, “in accordance with its own constitutional arrangements” to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, withdraw the Article 50 notification, or exit without a deal.
Any attempts at being helpful will only be misconstrued as interfering in the internal affairs of a member state. No further time should be wasted on Brexit at EU Council meetings, and the new incoming commission should be focused on other matters — eg, negotiating trade deals with countries that actually know what they want.
EU heads of government should refuse to return Boris’ calls, and certainly not visit 10 Downing Street, as seems to be the current de facto policy in any case. The UK has dominated the EU agenda quite enough. This may be good for boosting Brexiteers’ sense of self-importance, but it is doing nothing for the EU itself.
This reader's opinion was first published in the print edition of the Irish Examiner on 22 October 2019