Brexit: The last chapter?

One thing is sure: neither the EU, nor the UK wants to further delay Brexit and no one wants to have a no-deal scenario. At least that was the feeling last night, but with Brexit nothing is certain.

Yesterday, the Members of Parliament (MPs) of the UK’s House of Commons voted against delaying the Brexit date in case there is no deal by 26 February. So it seems that 29 March remains the “divorce date”.  Also, the option to hold a second referendum was outvoted. Even the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, chose to be constructive and said to be prepared to talk with Prime Minister May.

In addition, MPs supported another amendment on the renegotiation of the Irish backstop. The amendment tabled by Conservative MP Graham Brady called for “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border.  So there seems to be a clear unanimity to pursue Brexit, but one of the most controversial issues during the Brexit talks seems to last.

This means that Theresa May has to renegotiate the backstop in Brussels. This backstop is actually some kind of safety net to avoid having a real border between Northern-Ireland and the Irish Republic in the transition period. This remains a problem especially for Brexiteers because the UK will still be part of a customs union with the EU and no clear end date of this backstop has been determined.

Despite that, the House of Commons made clear that this is an important priority, however uncertainty remains, with only two months left to the “divorce date”. May might have a majority in her own Conservative party and in Parliament to renegotiate again with the European Union, but it is very unlikely that the latter will agree. “The Withdrawal Agreement is and remains the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal,” stated European Council President Donald Tusk yesterday. Also the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, and the French President, Emmanuel Macron, indicated that they were not enthusiastic about the renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

So once again it will be very difficult to maintain the deadline of 29 March. But the EU already showed willingness to extend Article 50 if the UK submits a reasonable request. On 13 February, May will give a statement in the House of Commons if no deal with the EU has been reached and on 14 February, there will be a new round of voting even it is not yet clear what exactly the vote will be about.