On Wednesday, Theresa May wrote to European Council president Donald Tusk formally requesting a three-month extension to Article 50. She had been expected to request more time, but is believed to have “caved amid a growing revolt of Brexiteer cabinet ministers”, says Harry Yorke in The Daily Telegraph. The 30 June deadline is designed to avoid the UK having to take part in European elections, says Andrew Sparrow in The Guardian. However, the EU may insist on an earlier deadline of 23 May. EU leaders met in Brussels for a summit yesterday, after MoneyWeek went to press, but a decision on whether to grant an extension looked likely to be delayed until an emergency summit next week. The reason for this, says European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, is that May “doesn’t have approval for anything – not in her cabinet and not in parliament”, and “as long as we don’t know what Britain could say yes to, we can’t come to any decision”.
On Tuesday the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said that any extension had to be justified and that the bloc was prepared for a “no-deal” Brexit, before hinting that the only way for the UK to avoid this scenario would be via a general election or second referendum, say Daniel Boffey and Jennifer Rankin in The Guardian. On the same day, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said she would fight until the “final hour” to avert a no-deal Brexit, but “admitted that she cannot second guess the outcome of the EU summit” due to the “chaos in Westminster”. On Monday, the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, effectively blocked the government from putting the same deal to MPs for a third time. However, if May can “find a way” of getting round this ruling it is likely she will have a last-ditch attempt at getting her deal through, says Rowena Mason in The Guardian. Iain Duncan Smith, one of 76 eurosceptics “holding out against a deal”, believes May still has an opportunity to obtain further concessions from the EU.
May: give me just a little more time(©Rex Features)
She does and she must, says Steve Baker, MP for Wycombe, in The Daily Telegraph. Her deal has to be revised and the Irish backstop replaced. Voting for the existing deal might satisfy the desire for progress, but it would mean converting a “clear instruction to take back control into a further surrender of our capacity for self-government, forever”. According to a ComRes poll, 54% say May’s deal does not deliver; just 14% approve. As the EU heads into European elections that are set to “undermine further integration”, they must see that they cannot afford a “no deal”. If the EU refuses to budge, we should exit on World Trade Organisation terms. And yes, a no deal is still possible, says Oliver Wright in The Times. Last week’s vote by MPs is not legally binding. If the EU does not grant an extension or makes it conditional on a deal passing by next Friday, then unless MPs back whatever deal is on the table at that point, the UK leaves the EU by default at 11pm on 29 March.
EU member states will grant an extension, says Henry Newman in The Sun. They don’t want the blame for a “messy” no deal. And with no deal out of reach there is no incentive for the EU to “provide any more concessions”. Brexiteers would prefer a harder deal, but there isn’t one on offer. If they reject May’s deal, the alternatives will be softer and “far worse” for the UK. Politics is about “taking the world as you find it, not as you would like it to be”. If Brexit doesn’t happen it will be a democratic “calamity” and the Tories will pay the price – which could be Jeremy Corbyn in power.