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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 18 July, 2019

One week out from the latest Brexit 'cliff edge', what's going on?

Ireland has been ramping up no-deal preparations, while the UK government has gone searching for Commons support.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

IN A WEEK’S time, the UK is due to leave the EU without a deal. So where do we stand now, what is due to happen next week, and will the EU grant an extension?

Here’s a quick recap: British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal has been rejected by the UK parliament three times, first by 230 votes in January, then by 149 votes in February, and then again by 58 votes in March.

The UK parliament then voted on a range of alternatives, drafted by MPs. It failed to reach a majority on eight different options in the first series of indicative votes, and failed to reach a majority on four other options in the second round.

When asked this week whether they should hold more indicative votes on Monday, MPs were evenly split – House Speaker John Bercow decided against it. 

So since the parliament didn’t get far by “taking back control” from the government, May then held a seven-hour Cabinet meeting where phones were confiscated, to discuss with her Ministers what should happen next.

After this meeting, she said that she would be seeking another extension to Article 50, which is basically delaying Brexit, and would work with the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn to secure Labour’s support for her Brexit deal. This statement means she is done trying to shift opinions within her own party, and now is working on getting her deal passed in the House of Commons by any means necessary.

May then met Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday for a reported 100 minutes of talks – both sides described the meeting as “cordial” but inconclusive.

Speaking on Sky News, DUP Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson said that this strategy was dangerous, because if Corbyn were to shift Labour’s position on the Brexit deal, he could weaken his clout with his own MPs and fall short of providing the voting-support that May is asking for.

Yesterday, 25 Labour MPs send Jeremy Corbyn a letter urging him to strike a deal with Theresa May and not request a second referendum. 

At Labour’s conference, you sent a message to the Prime Minister saying: “If you deliver a deal that includes a customs union and no hard border in Ireland, if you protect jobs, people’s rights at work and environmental and consumer standards – then we will support that sensible deal.

“Delaying for many months in the hope of a second referendum, will simply divide the country further and add uncertainty for business. A second referendum would be exploited by the far right, damage the trust of many core Labour voters and reduce our chances of winning a general election.” 

On Wednesday, MPs backed a bill which would force the Prime Minister to seek a delay to Brexit to avoid a no deal.

Next Wednesday 10 April, the European Council will meet in Brussels to discuss the proposals put forward by the UK government. Theresa May will be asking for an extension, and hoping that the support of Labour, which isn’t secured as of yet, will be enough of a reason for the EU to grant it.

If the 27 leaders don’t grant an extension, the UK will leave the EU on 12 April without a deal.

No-deal warnings

This week, the Irish government have been ramping up their no-deal preparations, as per the advice from the European Commission earlier this week.

Among the no-deal Brexit information that has been issued by the Irish government this week, is advice:

  • for companies with their own transport bringing goods through Irish ports;
  • for people and companies buying online from the UK;
  • for those in the construction and building trade;
  • for residents in Ireland with UK driving licences;
  • for those driving Irish-registered vehicles in Northern Ireland and Great Britain;
  • for companies who may be storing personal data in the UK or in a UK based cloud service. 

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe also advised that only half of businesses that trade with the UK have obtained an EORI customs number, which they would need to continue to trade in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Will the EU grant an extension?

EU leaders have become more vocal in how they’ve become fed up of Brexit sucking up all their time, press coverage, and legislative energy.

This week, Leo Varadkar met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Dublin. The aim of this was to secure their support in not giving ground on the backstop in order to secure a Brexit deal.

Macron said that France would never let Ireland or the Irish people down, while Merkel said that they would walk every step with Ireland.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Dublin Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Meanwhile, on the continent, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “If the United Kingdom is able to approve the withdrawal agreement with a viable majority by 12 April, then the European Union should accept an extension until 22 May.

I will do everything to prevent a disorderly Brexit. 

It doesn’t look like a fourth meaningful vote will be held next week, there simply won’t be time, but that pledge could represent some willingness from the EU to give the UK more time to secure a deal.

But if talks between May and Corbyn collapse, as they’re likely to, May has indicated that she will then hold her own set of indicative votes of possible options (remember it was UK backbenchers that were proposing amendments in the last set of votes).

May will then choose a proposal for the extension that will be proposed to the European Council summit on Wednesday for 27 EU leaders to consider.

The 22 May is a day before EU elections across Europe begin; the 18 April is the final date by which the UK can begin to organise itself in order to take part in the European elections.

This phrase has a slightly too-positive undertone to it, but it’s the best answer to the question of what is next: anything can happen. 

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