Monday, 9 September 2019

EU27 patience may be running out

There is this vague memory of a British airliner of the 1960s which the Ministry of Defence was considering producing a military version of. For the manufacturer, it would have been a useful extension of the plane's life after most civilian orders had been fulfilled. As was the way of these things, specifications changed and negotiations were held up by changes of government. Finally, when the design was finalised and the Treasury squared, the MoD went back to the manufacturer only to be told: "We got tired of waiting for a decision. We have scrapped the jigs and tools because they were taking up valuable space."

The assumption that our counter-party would automatically fall in with our wishes has bedevilled the UK's conduct of negotiations over Brexit. Even after it became clear that the 27 would not automatically give us the same rights as we had in the EU without the responsibilities, our ill-equipped representatives expected the 27 to provide an alternative deal which was almost as good. Even now, the self-delusion persists. Parliament has mandated the prime minister to apply for a further extension to our withdrawal date, oblivious to the feelings of our European partners, and with no clear forward plan. It is not surprising that France's patience has finally snapped. It is more than likely that other nations' governments are feeling the same way but are keeping diplomatically quiet. Those most affected on the continent now have arrangements in place should the UK crash out at Halloween. They will regret the break, but the time must have arrived when they can stand the uncertainty no longer.

It takes only one nation out of the 27 to veto an extension.  Unless we can guarantee to use that extended period for a further referendum or a general election, our chances of avoiding a disastrous withdrawal are no better than evens.

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