Want to break the Brexit deadlock? Change the negotiating terms.


This article was first published in CityAM

Who knows, Theresa May’s deal may yet get through parliament at the third attempt.

It seems unlikely given the scale of previous defeats. But making predictions about what will happen next in the Brexit saga is a mug’s game.

If the deal fails again, the UK will request a long extension to the Article 50 process. The EU has, rightly, made it clear that any extension must have a clear purpose.

A General Election or a second referendum would clearly be justifiable reasons for a long delay. But assuming that those two options remain off the table (and, again, who can possibly know?), what would a long delay actually achieve?

As things stand today, probably not much. Neither side seems to have any intention to move away from its position on the Irish backstop – the “irreconcilable difference”, to use the term at the heart of many divorces. While that remains the case, no amount of delay will resolve the issue.

The origins of the current impasse can be traced to one action by the EU and the agreement to it by the UK: the decision to sequence the negotiations so that the withdrawal agreement had to be nailed down first, and be legally binding, while the nature of the future trading relationship would only be the subject of a non-binding political declaration, to be finalised later.

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