Back To Brussels
Parliament has spoken. The Prime Minister will go back to Brussels with a mandate for change. For nearly two years Brussels has been pleading with the British government to set out what it wants from a Brexit deal. Last week parliament conformed. MPs signalled that they could pass the withdrawal agreement if the Irish backstop was replaced with alternative measures to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. What those alternative measures might be is a little unclear, but Theresa May has promised that these arrangements must be legally binding, which will require reopening the withdrawal agreement.
Of course Brussels’ predisposition will be to give Mrs May short shrift. EU leaders and officials lined up very quickly after the vote to insist that the withdrawal agreement is closed and cannot be renegotiated. But its now the turn of the EU to give ground if a Brexit deal is to be achieved. It may calculate that Britain has most to lose from no deal, given that it is the UK that will face the undoubted disruption of exiting the legal arrangements that underpin its security and commercial relationships with the EU and much of the rest of the world. But Brussels stands to lose too, not just in terms of damage to its own trade and security co-operation with Britain, but also through the possibility of a deep separation with a close partner and neighbour. This would come at a time when the Eurozone economy is slowing and there are risks of renewed strains in parts of the financial system. In truth, the EU can ill-afford new economic shocks. Crucially a deal is also in Europe’s strategic interests at a time of rising geopolitical tensions. A no-deal Brexit risks heaping further strains on European unity. Meanwhile, the biggest victim of a no-deal Brexit would be Ireland, which would be likely to face a choice between imposing checks on the Northern Irish border or falling foul of EU law.
If the EU stands firm in the hope that Parliament will not allow a No Deal they could be equally disappointed by what follows because there is no evidence of a majority for any other way forward, certainly not Norway or a so called Peoples Vote neither of which could command a majority. A general election could prove equally disastrous and could lead Brussels to deal with an unpredictable coalition led by Jeremy Corbyn. The EU should recognise that its best chance of a deal lies with Mrs May, and it should make concessions.