30. January 2019, 14:33 Uhr
It is a metaphor often mentioned in relation to yesterday evening’s voting in the Commons: the unicorn. And it is an apt choice. For the fairy-tale qualities of that mythical creature exactly mirror the qualities of the decision MPs have taken with regard to the amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.
Rather than opting for those amendments designed to stave off a chaotic no-deal Brexit by asking for an extension of the deadline set by Article 50 of the EU treaties, MPs voted for the most unrealistic of options: To try and reopen the deal struck with the EU27 in order to get rid of the hated Irish border backstop. In effect, the Commons have thus plumped for a huge gamble instead of certainty. Though it cannot be discounted out of hand that the EU27 will yield, the very attempt to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement is extremely risky. That’s because this time around, HM government will have to convince 27 different European leaders rather than their single top negotiator Michel Barnier. Remember that Mr Barnier’s mandate for the first round of Brexit elapsed the moment the Withdrawal Agreement was reached: From the start, the EU27 invested their chief negotiator with clear-cut, restricted powers. The UK’s attempt to reopen that deal with the explicit aim to strike out one of the most important provisions from the EU’s point of view, the notorious backstop to secure an open Irish border, will hence need to be made palatable to each and every leader of the EU member states, not merely Mr Barnier and his team. Not only that this is a daunting task already; it also needs time already beyond the precious few weeks left until 29 March.
We’ve stated it time and again (see the special issue of last November of our former monthly bulletin): The one thing mandatory to effectively avoid a no-deal Brexit was the postponement of Brexit. By throwing out this option, the Commons have made the chaotic Brexit feared by business a near certitude: This time, there will be no dramatic, last-minute deal in Brussels, for any agreement will have to be signed and ratified by each and every national parliament in the EU27 before 29 March. There’s only one option left now to avert a no-deal Brexit, and that is as unlikely as ever: The unilateral decision by HM government to revoke Article 50 and thus cancel Brexit.