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Brexit hysteria set to reach its zenith this week

Theresa May heading for the Brexit. Credit: Alexandros Michailidis

Negotiations between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are set to continue today. A bill preventing a no deal Brexit has made its way through Parliament and Prime Minister Theresa May is travelling to European capitals today, seeking an extension to Article 50 tomorrow that will see the denouement of months of hysteria.

That is not to say that the Brexit nightmare is over for the British or other Europeans, just that Prime Minister May’s Brexit soliloquy is expected to end this week. She will be asking the European Union (EU) member states for an extension of Article 50 until 30 June.

It seems unthinkable that the EU would agree to such a short extension given that they believe that May cannot unite her party, let alone Parliament, and is unlikely to be calling the tune for much longer. May is seen by many as a lame duck Prime Minister; options for the United Kingdom (U.K.) are now seen as narrowing to four possibilities.

In the first instance a no deal Brexit is still the default position in law and unless there is some sort of intervention by the U.K. Government, Britain will leave the EU on 12 April. Few expect this scenario to play out.

It is expected that the EU will grant an extension of some sort. A short extension has been requested by May, but there is no appetite within the EU’s 27 member countries for an extension that will have to be extended again, in all likelihood within a few months. The preference in Europe is for a longer extension, either until the end of this year or until the end of March next year.

In all probability a longer extension is what the U.K. will end up with as Parliament has voted to prevent a no deal Brexit. Legislation offered by Members of Parliament (MPs) Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin (EU Withdrawal No. 5 Act) has now been passed into law; it requires the Prime Minister to pass a motion to extend Article 50 to a date specified in the bill. While the Government can offer any new date, it must come to Parliament to set out the length of the extension today.

The British Government must then ask the EU for the extension and if the European Council proposes an alternative date, that offer must be put to Parliament. The Cooper/Letwin bill reduced the risk of a no deal Brexit substantially, and took power out of May’s hands.

The only other option would be to revoke Article 50, ending the Brexit process. That appears to be the nuclear option that would blow the Conservative Party apart. Already some ministers and MPs are in open revolt against May’s Brexit strategy. Some hard Brexit proponents want all negotiations to stop now and for the nation to leave on Friday, but that is a minority view in Parliament.

While the UK is unlikely to leave the EU this week, what appears more certain is that May is unlikely to last much longer as Prime Minister. Members of her own party are openly plotting her downfall. This is due not only to her handling of the Brexit negotiations, but also includes anger by some at the extensions to Article 50. There also those who believe that her negotiations with the ‘Marxists’ in the Labour Party were the ultimate betrayal.

Those cross-party talks have been continuing for three days with little sign of a breakthrough. The Labour negotiators have accused the Government of refusing to compromise on any of its red lines, meaning there is little to negotiate about, while Labour is sticking to its demands for a customs union.

EU leaders will meet tomorrow to discuss Brexit issues, but with the EU elections closing in and European-wide discussions around the reform of the EU there seems to be little appetite in Europe to debate Brexit again.

Should the longer delay be offered by the EU and should the U.K. accept that delay the nation will have to hold European Parliamentary elections, heaping another humiliation on May. But any offer of an extension is also likely to come with strict limitations on the U.K.’s participation in budgetary debates and the composition of the new European Commission.

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Nick Savvides, Staff Writer

Nick came to FreightWaves in December 2018 from Fairplay, a shipping market publication. He covers the shipping, freight and logistics industry in Europe. Since starting his career as a journalist in 1990, Nick has worked for a number of significant freight publications abroad, including International Freighting Weekly, the online news service for Containerisation International, ICIS, the chemical industry reporting service, as well as Seatrade in Greece. Nick also worked as a freelance journalist writing for Lloyd’s List, The Observer, The Express and The European newspapers among others before joining Seatrade Newsweek in Athens.

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