No late-breaking scoops this time. As expected, the EU summit on October 17 made no progress on Brexit. The plans to hold an extraordinary divorce summit on November 17-18 were dropped. That decision can be reconsidered if there is a sudden breakthrough. A summit is scheduled for December anyway, but the chances for an agreement are slim. The UK is set to leave the EU in March. A "no-deal" outcome is the worst possible scenario and would be fraught with consequences.
The possibility of extending the post-Brexit transition period by a year (until the end of 2021) has been raised. It would buy more time to negotiate. In that event, Great Britain would continue to be subject to EU rules for a longer period, without having a say in any of them. The government would come under fierce attack from the Brexiteers.
The Brussels-supported Irish demand for a “backstop” insurance clause to ensure that no “hard border” is erected between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is a big problem. Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party lawmakers, Theresa May’s parliamentary allies, are adamant in their desire to prevent customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain. How to keep the land border between the Republic of Ireland and British Northern Ireland friction-free is a tricky problem. Nothing was proposed at the summit that offered any hope for finding a solution.
Fresh ideas are the only answer to this predicament and there is very little time left. If we want to call a spade a spade — a backstop is the path to separation. As Boris Johnson, former foreign secretary, put it “It is a choice between the break-up of this country, or the subjugation of this country, between separation or submission. It is between treating Northern Ireland as an economic colony of the EU, or treating the whole of the UK as such a colony. It is a choice between protecting the Union or saving Brexit.”
Any agreement, even if the British prime minister had one in hand, would be scrutinized by MPs. It will be no cakewalk to push it through Parliament. European parliaments also need time to ratify an agreement, even if the text is acceptable to the MPs, which is difficult to imagine. It’s hard to see how such a wide gap could be bridged. And if an agreement is not ready in December, and there is nothing suggesting that one might be possible, Britain will either leave without it or else a miracle will pull the country from the impasse.
The British government has the following options: one is to leave Northern Ireland in the EU and bear the responsibility for the breakup of the country. That plan has no chance in Parliament and the government would definitely be forced to step down. This option is a no-go.
But it’s hard to imagine the EU making concessions on the issue. There’s the rub. That makes leaving the EU without an agreement the only viable option. It that in the best interests of the UK as a nation? Hardly. The government would be out anyway and no one knows what the UK’s future would hold. It looks murky at best.
Let’s suppose a miracle happens and the British Parliament approves a decision to let Northern Ireland remain in the EU. The issue of Scotland’s independence would immediately take center stage. Edinburgh has already made it clear that it wants a special status that would allow it to stay in the European Union. Parts of the kingdom will live in accordance with their own laws. If that’s not disintegration, then what is? A refusal will spur the separatist sentiments that are already strong in Scotland. There can be no doubt that Scotland would raise the issue of sovereignty if the UK leaves the EU. Its parliament could declare independence without holding a referendum. That scenario would hardly please London.
What can we expect? The most likely scenario looks like this: no agreement is reached, the deadline is extended but nothing happens, Theresa May’s government steps down, and a new nationwide referendum on EU membership is held in the UK that is won by the supporters of the EU. That’ll be followed by new elections. If not, London will withdraw from the bloc and that’ll be the end of the United Kingdom as we know it. Great Britain will be history and England will appear on the map as an independent state. New countries will emerge in Europe, and their NATO membership will top the agenda. The US will lose a staunch ally. Germany and France will become the undisputed leaders of Europe, with no counterweight to keep the balance.
In theory, a politician with an extraordinary mindset who is able to come up with new initiatives could turn the tide if elected prime minister in the UK. A new leader will have to roll up his or her sleeves and get down to business. Those who would hate to see that country dismembered should keep their fingers crossed and hope for this scenario. But would Brussels agree to a compromise if offered an acceptable deal?
Evidently the EU has no interest in losing the UK. Why should it? Perhaps the current situation is nothing but an artificial construct created as a plot to keep Great Britain in the bloc. And those in the kingdom who oppose the idea of Brexit will make a grab for this chance in an effort to keep the country intact. Just a thought.