So there has been no progress on Brexit at the European Council that started last night and is carrying on today, and there will be no extra summit about Brexit mid-November either until Michel Barnier reports “decisive progress” in talks. I’d hoped it would not be so, and that a deal of some sort was close, but May was sidetracked by the DUP and the backstop on one side, and her Brexit hardliners on the other side.
The best May could offer was an idea to extend Brexit transition “by a few months” – and that helps how, exactly? Oh and it pleased no one. Even Nick Boles is furious. Both Charles Michel and Xavier Bettel are saying that May has to move and the ball is in the UK’s court.
And Brexit is 162 days away. No ratified deal by then and the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.
Which then leads me to a simple and alarming question:
When is the UK going to panic?
We are approaching the stage where there is no easy way out of this. Not enough time to negotiate something substantially different to what has been negotiated until now, not least because a Withdrawal Agreement has to be ratified and that takes months. Even a Withdrawal Agreement at the 13-14 December European Council leaves everyone with a ridiculously tight timetable.
Further, for those proposing a People’s Vote on the eventual deal, the time to organise such a vote before 29 March 2019 was already ridiculously tight, and without a Withdrawal Agreement now the timetable becomes basically impossible. Article 50 extension then a People’s Vote is the only way now.
The EU side is under less pressure – it knows it could survive a No Deal better than the UK can, and it likely better prepared for such a scenario anyway. So it can sit tight and wait for the UK side to cave in, or to panic. The only relevant question now is when that panic starts.