The UK remains in the EU until a new Brexit date is set

Theresa May, Prime Minister of UK speaks to the Press after the European Council of Thursday, 21 March. (EU photo, Brussels, Belgium).

Last Thursday, the EU’s 27 leaders unanimously agreed to delay the departure of Britain from the club by at least a fortnight. The exit date had been fixed on 29 March 2017 for exactly two years on. However, the postponement of the divorce sets a tough task for Jeremy Corbyn, the head of the major opposition Labour Party.

The center-left leader will be tested this week, because Prime Minister Theresa May could possibly table her Brexit deal for a third time in Parliament. In the previous two votes of May’s Brexit, when Labour voted against, this was the deciding factor for the rejection of the deal, given the internal situation of the Tories. If the deal is tabled again, the Labour Party will have the unique opportunity to prop up this agreement to gain an overwhelming majority and thus deliver the country from its current ordeal.

Corbyn not ready

But, most probably, things will not evolve this way. Corbyn will continue opposing May’s deal for as long as she doesn’t promise to hold a referendum about the deal, after it was passed in Parliament. The leader of the Labour Party has explicitly proposed this compromise and May has equally clearly rejected it. In any case, Corbyn has never strongly supported a policy line securing the closest possible relation with the EU after Brexit or even staying in the club.

These antitheses are a good description of the reasons why the British Parliament has for many months been unable to reach a decision, about what kind of Brexit is best for the country. The 650 deputies have rejected almost everything, but proposed nothing concrete or no-nonsense. They have twice down-voted May’s deal, they have rejected a no-deal Brexit, they didn’t dare clearly to support a second referendum nor had they the courage to altogether abolish Brexit, despite there being a majority for that.

What kind of extension?

After last week’s EU summit approval of an extension for the UK’s departure, things still remain quite misty about how the country is to leave the EU, if ever. On top of that, last Friday, PM May said she would table her deal in Parliament for a third time, only in the case there is a clear majority for it. Understandably, this could put an end to nearly three years of political helplessness, deep social division and economic waste. Unfortunately, Corbyn doesn’t agree.

So, as things stand now, the UK Parliament is instead expected to pass a Brexit delay until 12 April, as the EU has proposed. Then, there will not be many options; it will either be a no-deal Brexit, a full cancellation of Brexit or a longer term delay of the departure date. This last possibility is the most likely to be passed in Parliament. In such a case, the UK will be obliged to hold a European election!

Nothing concrete

Consequently, the Gordian knot remains always intact. A number of MPs propose a solution to the two extreme possibilities of a no-deal Brexit, or a full revocation of it: to drastically complement May’s deal. They say it can be supplemented with a Customs Union or even with full single market access. As for the few sworn Brexiteers, they insist on a loose Canada style free trade deal or a bit stronger Norway type relation with the EU. However, none of those options attracts enough support in Parliament.

Truly, May’s deal surely has very slim chances of being approved in Parliament, in case it is tabled for a third time. With this agreement finally dead, the very short Brexit delay until 12 April is not enough time for anything. So, 10 Downing Street will be certainly obliged to ask for a much longer delay and the EU appears most inclined to grant it.

The other option is the real catastrophe of a no-deal exit. Everybody recognizes that dreadful reality apart from the 60 wild Tory Brexiteers. In short, Britain remains in the EU club until a new exit date is set. In the meantime, in May’s Conservative governing party, individual agendas and petty politics reign. Both the Brexiteer and the Bremain ‘barons’ eye the PM’s job, not minding at all the great cost for the people and the country.

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