FIRST March 29 – the original Brexit deadline – came and went. Then April 12. Boris Johnson’s October 31 target is the latest footnote.
And now the EU have granted a three month extension in the hope that Parliament can pass a Withdrawal Bill, the precursor to far more complicated talks on trade, by January 31.
Yet, as a country even more deeply divided by Brexit braces itself for three further months of Parliamentary and political purgatory before another hiatus in the New Year, the words of Donald Tusk, at the time of the first extension, remain as prescient as ever. “Please don’t waste this time,” he advised.
And this is the dilemma facing MPs this week. This Parliament was elected in June 2017 with a mandate to implement Brexit and politicians on all sides need to ask, in the latest bout of brinkmanship, whether an election will make it easier – or harder – to fulfil this task and honour the result of a referendum which was staged nearly three and a half years ago.
It is called statesmanship because there will come a time, French president Emmanuel Macron’s patience is already wearing thin, when an equally exasperated EU will rebuff any future extension requests and leave Britain at the mercy of a no-deal Brexit – the one eventuality which a majority of MPs seemingly wish to avoid at all costs.
Yet, while an election could give Mr Johnson a majority in the House of Commons, this Tory tactic backfired two years ago when Theresa May failed to win sufficient support from Brexit-backing Labour voters in the North and a December poll – the first since 1923 (and which ultimately led to the formation of a national government under Ramsay MacDonald) – could easily return a hung parliament. And then what? Britain would be back to square one, left even more bereft of stature in the world and no nearer to resolving Brexit.