The Straits Times says

Brexit deadline extension can buy time

Britain and Brexit just lurched closer to the cliff edge with no clear solution in sight. With a little more than 60 days to the March 29 deadline to leave the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May's Plan B that was unveiled on Monday looked essentially no different from Plan A, which was overwhelmingly rejected by Parliament last week. There was a new fee waiver for EU citizens seeking residency rights - a welcome but cosmetic change. But Mrs May kept to her original red lines of rejecting a second referendum and a Customs union with the EU. She also did not rule out the possibility of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal. What she did offer was more consultation with others and yet another go at persuading the EU to make changes to the so-called "Irish backstop". The plan, aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland, is opposed by hardline Brexiteers and her Northern Irish allies who fear it would lock Britain to European trade rules indefinitely. The trouble is Mrs May has tried this tack many times before and failed.

The unsurprising message from the EU, the business community and growing ranks of British MPs is that fresh thinking is needed if Britain is to avoid the dire consequences of a no-deal exit. MPs are right to lament that Mrs May seemed not to have learnt from her crushing defeat in Parliament last week and that Britain looks caught in a loop, reliving Groundhog Day on Brexit options as the clock ticks down. But then, Mrs May is not entirely to blame. If Brexit Britain is like a road movie, what is happening is that the driver of the car is headed for the cliff but refusing to change course while the passengers are in mutiny but cannot agree on a new direction or a new driver.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2019, with the headline 'Brexit deadline extension can buy time'. Print Edition | Subscribe