EU leaders likely to offer May negotiating extension to June 30th
They do not want it said they did not give the UK every chance, and that they ‘kicked the Brits out’
A pro-EU protester outside parliament in Westminster. It might suit prime minister Theresa May if her talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were to go on longer. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
It might well suit Theresa May if her talks with Jeremy Corbyn were to go on just a bit longer, even a few more days. Just beyond the summit on Wednesday will do fine.
There EU leaders will have, given the chance, probably offered her the negotiating extension to June 30th she sought on Friday in her latest missive to European Council president Donald Tusk.
Even with a deal still beyond grasp, the talks with Labour should in themselves provide enough of the required convincing justification of a new approach for the 27 leaders to agree to another – though it will certainly be the last – extension.
And they do not even have to be convinced that the talks will be productive, only that they are manifest evidence of May’s commitment to a new approach to building a majority for a withdrawal agreement and an amended political declaration.
Should the talks with Labour founder in the next couple of days we still have the prospect of Commons votes that she has promised to respect and which could yet deliver the deal.
Not that many diplomats and officials here believe she will succeed. We are repeatedly being told a no-deal departure is “highly likely”, and that May has promised and failed to deliver before. Yet EU leaders do not want it said that they did not give the UK every chance, that they “kicked the Brits out”. So they will vote her another extension.
There is also some talk of giving the UK, whether it wants it or not, what has been called a “flextension”, a longer extension being suggested by Tusk involving full participation in the European elections and a departure whenever they do the deal. Time, it is argued, to get the job of building a majority done properly.
The idea has not achieved a consensus yet, however, with more than one member state convinced it would just give the prevaricators in the UK more time to prevaricate.
And in pulling up the drawbridge on June 30th the prime minister is also cutting off one of her lines of retreat, albeit one she has repeatedly eschewed. If the UK is definitively to be out by June 30th there is clearly no time to hold a second referendum or what Labour is calling a confirmatory vote.
By writing to Tusk, May has preempted Labour attempts, and those under way in the Commons, to make a confirmatory vote a precondition of their deal. It may be enough to scupper one.
Reassurances to the 27 are also important elements of the prime minister’s letter. Her promise to compete in the European elections if the UK is still a member on May 23rd, even if she cancels them if the UK is out by then, is an important precondition.
And she has pledged that the UK “will continue to act as a constructive and responsible member state of the EU in accordance with the duty of sincere co-operation throughout this unique period”.
This is a direct, almost humiliating, good behaviour promise to those who fear the UK will use its extra time in the union to disrupt or interfere in key decisions like the budget negotiations or key appointments due in the next few months.
And just in case anyone felt this might be a bit farfetched, ERG leader Jacob Rees Mogg on Friday tweeted his helpful advice to the PM about all those decisions: “If a long extension leaves us stuck in the EU we should be as difficult as possible.”
His intervention did not go unnoticed in Brussels.