Two weeks ago, we were told that Britain would be leaving the EU on 12th April. And yet here we are, and – you guessed it – we’re still in. So, what happens now?
Well, first thing to know is that the UK has been given a Brexit “flextension”, lasting until 31st October. There’s still a chance of us crashing out without a deal then, but it’s looking less and less likely. Emmanuel Macron made it clear at Wednesday’s EU summit that he wanted the UK to be stripped of all the rights of an EU member and told to leave by next month – with or without a deal. But, as Daniel Johnson wrote here on Thursday, Angela Merkel wasn’t having any of it. When push comes to shove, it seems, neither the UK nor the EU will actually allow no deal to happen – and there’s no reason why that should change by the autumn.
The government is using the stay of execution to give MPs a break, (and by the look of them, that’s a wise idea) with the hope that they’ll come back feeling calm, refreshed and ready to compromise after Easter.
Back in Westminster, talks between the Government and Labour seem to be going rather better than last week: ministers will meet their Labour counterparts today, and are telling business leaders tonight that there could be a bespoke deal for the UK, if those cross-party talks can deliver. There’s still a chance that the DUP could throw its toys out of the pram and collapse the Confidence and Supply deal with the government if May does a deal with Labour, but even that’s looking unlikely. Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson has said that the DUP “will certainly not acquiesce in any legislation which would implement the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement which would separate NI from the rest of the UK”, but given any deal with Labour would almost certainly involve some version of a UK wide Customs Union (ie. an arrangement which negated the need for the backstop), that shouldn’t be a problem.
Meanwhile, talk about the Conservative leadership race seems, for now, to have died down. A few lesser known cabinet ministers have let slip hints that they’ll be running (Penny Mordaunt referred to her “campaign team” in an interview, and Liz Truss has been assiduously courting young libertarians on Talk Radio), but all the big dogs have gone suspiciously quiet. It seems that none of the people at the top levels of the Tory Party who believe they could lead, want to do it at this moment – where, as Laura Kuenssberg puts it, leadership has never been so in demand.
One way or another, the fiery Brexit dramas of the last few weeks have all but fizzled out, and the occupants of the Westminster village are trotting – slightly shame-facedly – back to their neglected day jobs.
Don’t get too comfortable, though, the Easter recess is only two weeks long, and by the time you’ve caught your breath, the fireworks will be starting again…