On Thursday, the European Union extended the deadline for Britain’s eviction from the continental bloc, allowing the United Kingdom to carry on with its national nervous breakdown for a few additional weeks.
The U.K. was poised to make a “no deal” Brexit on March 29, an outcome that would threaten such wrenching economic chaos that the nation’s citizens and military had been stockpiling food, medicine, and fuel in recent weeks to prepare for the coming storm. Now, if the British Parliament acquiesces to Theresa May’s Brexit deal next week, the U.K. will have until May 22 to prepare for life outside the E.U. Notably, accepting such an extension would require Britain to take part in elections for the European Parliament in early May — a spectacle that pro-Brexit forces are anxious to avoid. On the other hand, if Parliament rejects the prime minister’s Brexit agreement for a third time, the E.U. will insist that Britain hit the road by April 12.
The latter scenario appears to be the likeliest outcome. Or so Emmanuel Macron believes: According to reports, the French president told E.U. leaders Thursday that he’d come to the meetings in Brussels thinking that May had only a 10 percent chance of getting her deal through Parliament the third time around — but that after hearing the prime minister speak, he concluded that he’d been far too optimistic.
Macron is not alone in that view. The New York Times reports that “European leaders believe that Mrs. May has lost much of her authority, and they have largely lost faith in her ability to deliver on Brexit.” The principal aim of their extension offer is thus to give Parliament the opportunity to force through a softer version of Brexit, or “even for the British to have a general election to break the current political impasse.”
E.U. officials also met with Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn Thursday, who could hypothetically put together a majority coalition for a “soft Brexit” — which is to say, an agreement that would allow the U.K. to retain the bulk of its current trade advantages in exchange for remaining subject to the bulk of the E.U.’s regulations on trade and immigration — by uniting the Euro-friendly majority in his party with the Remainer rump in May’s. Earlier this month, a parliamentary majority voted to reject leaving the European Union without an agreement in place. But it does not actually have the power to reject such an outcome unless it also votes to either nullify the 2016 referendum — and simply remain in the E.U. — or for a Brexit agreement that has the E.U.’s stamp of approval.
And at the moment, a majority in Parliament does not want to do either of those things. Thus, it looks like the United Kingdom will continue making Donald Trump’s United States look like a relatively well-run country for another few weeks.