The Brexit conundrum from Europe's perspective

A balance between the European Union's growing exasperation and patience with Brexit will shape the strategic position the 27 adopt at the summit.
A balance between the European Union's growing exasperation and patience with Brexit will shape the strategic position the 27 adopt at the summit.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS • With Britain still feverishly discussing its Brexit plans, the other 27 EU states are preparing their joint stance for a top-level summit with British Prime Minister Theresa May next week.

A balance between the European Union's growing exasperation and patience with Brexit will shape the strategic position the 27 adopt at the summit on Wednesday. Here are the pros and cons of the main options from the bloc's point of view.

NO-DEAL

Unless something else is agreed, Britain will crash out of the bloc as soon as April 12.

The EU talks of the growing risk of no-deal Brexit almost daily, partly because it is current legal reality but also to scare the factious British Parliament into accepting the divorce deal Mrs May sealed with the bloc, which British lawmakers have rejected three times.

France has led EU states in adopting a tough line towards Britain and calling for accepting no-deal to end the Brexit uncertainty as soon as possible.

But the EU appetite for the most-damaging break is low, and exposed countries such as Ireland and Belgium are not fully prepared to manage ensuing disruptions.

 
 
 
 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's strong opposition to a no-deal Brexit and the bloc's wariness over being assigned blame for any abrupt split mean this is not the most likely scenario for next week.

SECOND, SHORT BREXIT DELAY

Between preparing for the worst-case scenario and plotting a long delay, the EU has been somewhat caught by surprise by Mrs May's request for a second, unspecified but short lag.

The bloc is waiting to see what comes out of Prime Minister May's talks with the opposition Labour Party to break the parliamentary impasse over Brexit.

It says London must relay its plan for the summit on Monday or Tuesday morning at the latest to ensure enough time for coordination among the other 27 capitals before the talks on Wednesday.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said earlier this week that London would not get another short delay to Brexit unless the British Parliament approves the stalled EU divorce agreement by April 12.

KICKING IT INTO THE LONG GRASS

For Britain to be allowed to stay much longer, the EU 27 have set a firm condition that it must take part in elections to the European Parliament in May.

They have given London until April 12 to state its intentions. EU diplomats discussed in recent days possible postponements of Brexit until the end of 2019, for a year until next spring or even going as far as the end of 2020.

Mr Michel Barnier, their Brexit negotiator, has been vocal about the high economic and political costs of keeping Britain in much longer as the bloc elects its new Parliament and replaces the executive European Commission.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2019, with the headline 'The Brexit conundrum from Europe's perspective'. Print Edition | Subscribe