Today is the day that British prime minister Theresa May is to go to Brussels to present the UK’s plan for withdrawing from the EU. But of course she has no plan. The EU is rejecting her appeal for a short extension until June 30 to arrive at a plan, rightly concluding that she will not be able to do so within that time frame. The EU has the option of rejecting any extension, causing the UK to crash out with no deal on Friday. But they are not likely to be that hard-nosed and are insisting on a longer deadline, until the end of this year or until the end of March 2020. That seems reasonable, except of course that it will make the hard-core Brexiters apoplectic since it will involve the UK staying in the EU longer and also taking part in the EU elections for the European parliament. If the UK does not hold EU elections between May 23-26, they will be automatically ejected from the EU on June 1.
The EU is clearly losing patience with the UK and with good reason. The UK cannot decide what it wants and keeps dithering and the EU is fed up with giving the UK one short-term extension after another that will lead to yet more emergency summits as the deadlines fail to be met, eating up time that could be productively spent on other matters.
“We cannot keep holding repeat Brexit summits,” an Élysée source conceded. “The EU has other things to do. Only a few weeks before the European elections, the EU must show that it knows how to do other things than holding summits about Brexit.”
Today, May said that she is open to a longer delay which is going to infuriate the Leave faction in her party. But the EU is also apprehensive that if the UK is given a long extension, the UK might act like a petulant child and be disruptive of EU business while they are still there. These fears were fueled by upper class twit Jacob Rees-Mogg’s stupid tweet that threatened to disrupt the EU from within. The EU is now taking steps to keep the UK in check, saying it will not tolerate disruptive behavior.
Slovenia, Austria and Spain had all voiced concerns about a lengthy extension during the meeting on Tuesday, citing the risks to the EU of Britain behaving badly during the extra period of membership.
But even those capitals most wary of prolonged delay are now merely insisting on a “mechanism” to keep a check on the British government’s behaviour.
A draft summit communique, obtained by the Guardian, and to be agreed by the EU27’s leaders on Wednesday, assumes in return for an extension a “commitment by the United Kingdom to act in a constructive and responsible manner throughout this unique period in accordance with the duty of sincere cooperation”.
It goes on to say the EU “expects the United Kingdom to fulfil this treaty obligation in a manner that reflects its situation as a withdrawing member state”, while the length of the extension is left blank.
“To this effect, the United Kingdom shall facilitate the achievement of the union’s tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the union’s objectives,” it adds in reference to the EU’s long-term plans, senior appointments and budget decisions. It adds that the UK will leave on 1 June unless it has held European elections between 23-26 May.
The threat made by the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg to disrupt the union from inside in the event of a long extension to Britain’s membership was raised in the meeting of ministers, according to a leaked cable.
Barnier told the group: “We will not tolerate this”.
France’s Europe minister, Amélie de Montchalin, told her colleagues during the meeting: “[The UK] mustn’t stand in the way of any decisions that the EU would have taken without them”.
An option, not included in the draft communique, that has been discussed in recent days is a requirement on the prime minister to set out in writing her intention for the UK to act in “sincere cooperation” with the bloc, and for a “weighing point” to be set up in October when Brussels would judge whether the UK was living up to its commitments.
Maybe the EU could put the UK in a timeout if they do not behave?
One gets the feeling that the EU has either reached, or is rapidly reaching, the stage where they are sick of this drama and wish that the UK would just get the hell out of the EU. The UK has become like a high-maintenance friend who has worn out your patience.