Rethinking Europe

EU: Stop Wasting Time on Brexit

An EU-UK deal is impossible to find because there is no majority in the UK for any sensible solution to the Brexit mess.

Credit: GrAl Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • An EU-UK deal is impossible to find because there is no majority in the UK for any sensible solution to the Brexit mess.
  • Theresa May is unable to push through a negotiated Brexit at home. She has not been able to do so yesterday and not today. Why should things be different tomorrow?
  • If Mrs. May is not capable of deciding on either a tough Brexit or a customs union, that is indeed a decision: One favoring a hard Brexit. Unfortunately.

What a waste of time and energy it was last week when British Prime Minister Theresa May met in Brussels with 27 colleagues for a supposed decision-making summit on Brexit. For all the fanfare, she had nothing new to offer: No real solution, no workable compromise proposal, not even the smallest movement.

She thus ended up stealing precious time that Europe’s leaders could have better used. God knows, there are plenty of important tasks to which the heads of state and government should pay urgent attention: The migration crisis, troubles with Italy, troubles with Poland. In addition, there are the urgent domestic political priorities in each EU state.

There are those who indefatigably rely on the principle of hope: Better a late agreement than none. If EU leaders agree in November, that’s enough. This is only true if there is a realistic chance of a late agreement. If that fails to materialize, every day spent on the Brexit matter is a wasted day.

Hoping that the agreement may materialize in November — and then in December, once hope has faded for November — is irresponsible.

There is no majority in the UK for a sensible solution

What justifies the hope that May or the EU will give in and find a deal “at the last minute”? There is no majority in the UK for a sensible solution.

The Tories are caught in their false promises. The Northern Irish DUP will not agree to a customs union crossing the customs border through the Irish Sea. Without the DUP, May has no majority.

The EU, for its part, has tried to build all sorts of bridges. Whatever it offers, May rejects the offer
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This is about fundamentals: Inside or out. A customs union could serve as an in-between scenario, but there is minimal room for maneuver. In the end, whatever solution is found to accommodate the UK cannot result in permanent damage in terms of the EU’s internal construction principles.

Faint hope for success

Theresa May, as experience has shown, is unable to push through a negotiated Brexit at home. She has not been able to do so yesterday and not today. Why should things be different tomorrow?

The EU’s proposed timetable for the Brexit negotiations was not an end in itself. And it doesn’t represent a negotiating ploy. It has a very real purpose: Not to lose the time, which all EU members need to prepare for and avert harm from Brexit.

After plentiful tactical games, now is the time for decisions. If Mrs. May is not capable of deciding on either a tough Brexit or a customs union, that is indeed a decision: One favoring a hard Brexit. Unfortunately.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared first in the German daily Der Tagesspiegel.

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About Christoph von Marschall

Christoph von Marschall is Chief Diplomatic Correspondent of the German daily "Der Tagesspiegel," published in Berlin.

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