The EU still sees a way to avoid the chaos which may be caused by Brexit. The deeply cherished wish is hereby the father of thought, certainly. But if neither London nor Brussels wants a hard Brexit, they can slide around like sensible dancers. After all, the EU’s DNA is one long chain of committees, commissions and bureaus.
The day after the parliamentary knockout handed out by the British House of Commons to Prime Minister May – a devastating ‘no’ on Tuesday evening against its Brexit agreement with the EU – a remarkable resignation prevails in Brussels. EU officials and diplomats are preparing for a new day of cleared agendas, calling the capitals and emergency meetings. It is almost routine in the Brexit negotiations. President Juncker of the European Commission left the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday for the sake of safety in order to deal with the expected Brexit crisis from Brussels. On Wednesday, he had spoken to virtually every leader, just like EU president Tusk.
The direction of the EU27 is and remains tight. Even now that the brexit date (March 29) is approaching anxiously and British politics are more diverse than ever, the front of the 27 is not bursting. By appointment, Rutte, Merkel, Macron and other EU leaders gave the same message on Wednesday: the disallowed agreement was the best guarantee of an orderly departure from the United Kingdom from the EU. A better agreement is not possible.
The leaders realize that no concession, clarification or promise from the EU side makes sense at the moment. It is never enough, because the British Parliament does not know what it wants. In addition: now admitting would be the image of an EU going through the knees for tricky, europhobic countries.
The unity of the 27 is also greatly helped by the total division on the other side of the Channel. Like most British people, EU officials and Brussels diplomats are in the dark as to what kind of brexit scenario in the House of Commons can count on a majority.
It is up to May to provide clarity in the coming days. EU negotiator Barnier set the door ajar: if the United Kingdom abandons its Brexittaboes (not a member of the internal market, not a member customs union, no free movement of workers), the EU immediately responds with serious concessions. Or as European Commissioner Timmermans put it, referring to the British writer C.S. Lewis: you can not change a false start, but the end of the race.
The European Commission stressed that the Brexit agreement itself (the division of 585 pages on the final financial statement, the rights of citizens and the Irish / Northern Irish border) is no longer broken, but there is room for political commitments that make that agreement acceptable for the British Parliament. The problem is that May has drawn the British ‘red lines’ and the vote in the House of Commons is not one that welcomes closer ties with the EU.
Diplomats think that many will be called with Ireland behind the scenes. Dublin plays a key role: if the Irish are prepared for a smoother border arrangement with Northern Ireland, as the British want, the rest of the EU will not be difficult about this. ‘We are not more Irish than the Irish’, according to a committed diplomat. But loyal EU member Ireland is not sacrificed for the reluctant big brother United Kingdom leaving the Union.
‘First let’s see what circus London presents again today’, concluded an EU official closely involved in the Brexit negotiations. Buying time is obvious. However, an additional EU summit to extend the negotiation period is not yet planned. The EU is going “with full force” in the preparation of emergency plans to limit the damage on the EU side of a strong Brexit.