EU tells Britain stay in as long as you wish

Last week Theresa May, the British Prime Minister went to Brussels to speak at the European Union Summit of 17 and 18 October. Before that she was received by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. Date: 17/10/2018. Location: Brussels, Belgium, EC / Berlaymont. © European Union , 2018 / Photo: Etienne Ansotte.

This newspaper has repeatedly asserted there will be no real Brexit, at least in the foreseeable future. Last week, the European Council in Brussels confirmed this. The President of the Council, Donald Tusk, made it clear. He plainly said Britain can remain as a full EU member after the Brexit day of 29 March 2019, until the two sides agree about the divorce terms. Already from December 2017, the EU leaders have accepted a two years interim period. Now, Brussels tells London the extension can be extended for as long as Britain thinks it necessary.

In detail, Tusk, for the first time, clarified that the EU leaders are ready to extend this two years interim period even further; practically until a full Brexit deal is reached. Summing up the results of the 17 and 18 October EU Summit in Brussels, he said “But let me recall that in her Florence speech in September 2017, Prime Minister May proposed a transition period of around 2 years. And the EU accepted this proposal unanimously. Therefore, if the UK decided that an extension of the transition period would be helpful to reach a deal, I am sure that the leaders would be ready to consider it positively”.

A breakthrough

Unquestionably, this is a major breakthrough in the stalled Brexit negotiations. The European Union has obviously decided to support the British Prime Minister Theresa May in her Herculean task, to put together a Brexit plan which can be voted for in the Commons, and be accepted by the EU negotiators at the same time. The new development makes sure that Britain may continue as a full EU member for as long as necessary for an agreement to be struck.

This is a major concession by Brussels but not without a positive aspect for mainland Europe. The idea behind this practically unlimited interim period after Brexit is to make sure there won’t be a wild divorce without a deal. In practice, it goes along the same lines with what 10 Downing Street has recently proposed.

Helping May

On 15 October, this newspaper’s leading article concluded: “Last Friday ..May again told her government and Tory party colleagues that post Brexit Britain won’t leave the EU Customs Union, but this will be ‘time limited’. How limited will it be, nobody can tell. In reality, Britain is to practically remain in the EU, and apply the rulings of the European Court for the years to come; for an eternity? Most probably!”.

More than a Customs Union

In short, the latest Brussels developments facilitate May’s efforts to convince her Brexiteer colleagues in the Tory party to accept her proposal for Britain to remain in the Customs Union. This is a first step towards a solution to the Irish stalemate. Readers may know that both London and Brussels have vowed that after Brexit there won’t be a hard border enacted on the island of Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland, the Eire, and Northern Ireland must continue communicating completely freely as today. After Brexit though, Eire remains in the EU and Northern Ireland has to follow out the rest of the UK. Only if the whole of the UK doesn’t leave the Customs Union or even better if it stays in the Union altogether, Eire and Northern Ireland will continue communicating freely.

It’s always Ireland

The final deal will, most probably, foresee something between the two extreme options, just a customs union or a full remain. For one thing, the EU negotiators have clarified that the UK cannot just cherry pick the Customs Union and forget all the other EU institutions and obligations.

By the same token, a full participation in all EU institutions during an indefinite interim period will be an unacceptable betrayal of the 23 June 2016 referendum 52% result for Brexit. So, Britain and the EU are now given enough time after March 2019 to come up with a divorce agreement, to avoid the dreadful for everybody no-deal Brexit. Brussels made sure of it.

 

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