Countdown to Brexit: 84 days – Brexit could still legally be cancelled but not delayed

As the clock ticks down towards Brexit the options that were - once upon a time - open to UK, are disappearing one-by-one.

To be considered, an option had to be legal and constitutional.  It was also required to complete its prescribed steps - in the time prescribed for each of the steps - before the two-year Brexit notice period runs out on 29 March.

January is crunch-time – and with 84 days remaining – only three options remain:  cancel Brexit; accept and leave under the terms of the negotiated ‘deal’; or leave with ‘no-deal’.

We have reported on risks inherent in the high stakes game being played out in London – aimed at pressurising Parliament towards accepting – however reluctantly – the ‘deal’.  If they don’t, time runs out for that option 26 January - and the UK leaves the EU with ‘no-deal’.

Whilst political chaos reigns in London, politicians in Dublin are becoming understandably nervous.  At one level, Ireland has achieved its greatest ever diplomatic success - the entire EU has placed its negotiating weight on the line to ensure that Brexit does not result in a ‘hard’ Irish border.

Ironic – in the game of risk - that it is the ‘Irish backstop’ that the EU put so much pressure on Theresa May to accept, that has provoked the so-far ‘insurmountable’ opposition in the House of Commons – and thereby increasing the chances of the UK ‘crashing out’ of the EU.

A no-deal Brexit brings the very real possibility of a hard economic border, economic chaos and poisoning of UK-Irish relations.  The Irish Government has, this week, ramped up its ‘no-deal’ contingency planning – including putting the military on standby to deal with civil and security issues.  Has the EU gamble backfired – and what needs to happen if this gamble is – in the end - to pay off?

the Irish Government’s approach has mirrored the UK’s.  The fundamental premise has been that no-deal will be so disruptive and bad for the UK, that Parliament will either swallow the Withdrawal Agreement with its Irish backstop - or cancel Brexit altogether in order to avoid the chaos of a no-deal Brexit.

It seems that UK Parliament will not swallow the backstop.  The Commons is divided into many factions - from hardcore ‘Brexiteers’ who want to leave at any cost to hardcore ‘Remainers’.

Ironic – any faction that states a preference immediately triggers the combined opposition of all of the others – no matter how unlikely a coalition this is.

If there is no agreement in Parliament by 21 January - and ratified by the EU by 26 January - a no-deal Brexit happens automatically on 29 March.

The only other option is for the UK to revoke its notification of its intention to leave.  But the European Court of Justice has said that this decision has to be unequivocal and permanent – there is no option to delay in the hope of re-opening the negotiations on the terms of a leaving deal.

Could the Irish Government’s approach and ‘the backstop’ – combined with the now well publicised and widely understood negative impacts of a ‘no-deal’ - cause the UK to abandon Brexit altogether?

The European Court of Justice ruling held that the UK is entitled to revoke Article 50 unilaterally and at any time until 23:00 GMT on 29 March - and remain an EU member.  And whilst legally the British Parliament could take the decision to overrule the Brexit referendum result – it is widely felt that politically, abandoning Brexit would need another referendum.  We reported in a previous posting the date after which a referendum could not be constitutionally completed before the end of March.

Ironic - just because almost nobody wants a no-deal Brexit, doesn’t mean that it won’t happen.

By this point, remaining EU27 Member States are sick and tired of the Brexit process - which they see as sucking up time and energy that could better be used to address the serious problems facing the EU.

This is how Brexit is viewed in an Irish newspaper commentary:  “In short, the high-risk gamble may come off - but it may not…Almost no-one wanted a World War in 1914 - but the parties ended up taking a series of individual decisions that ultimately led to a conflagration that was in no one’s interests…The Irish Government has bet heavily on the idea that the UK will not self-harm.  Looking at the chaos in London, that may not have been a wise bet.”

John ShuttleworthComment