“I don’t know who’s got the political and intellectual smarts to be able to unravel this knot. But one thing I do notice, which is a common feature of almost all discussion of Brexit at the moment, is that it is a discussion and debate carried forward almost entirely without reference to the EU 27 on the other side of the channel.
“When we get in this hoo-ha about no-deal or a deal, people saying it’s impossible to get no-deal through the house of commons, and other candidates saying, ‘never will I countenance no-deal’, what they seem to forget is that it’s not exclusively our decision, it’s also the decision of the EU 27.
“If for example, between now and the 31st October, or between now and the European Council which takes place a few days earlier in October, Nigel Farage’s group in the European Parliament cause mayhem, which is possible, and the EU finally come to the conclusion that they really don’t want us inside any longer, come 31st October, it’s not a question of whether a Tory Prime Minister is in favour of No-Deal or a Deal; it could be that the decision is taken out of his hands. Because the EU 27 may say: “we’re not extending Article 50 anymore, even if it means no deal.” No candidate has been, as far as I know, certainly not up until 10 am this morning, no candidate has been asked: “What would you do if the EU refuses to extend Article 50?
“One of the problems all the way through this, which is a form of arrogance actually, is the insularity; the belief that the only thing that matters is what goes on in the Westminster bubble. That I think has been the besetting weakness of the debate in London, and it still is.
“You’ve got the so-called hard Brexiteers; Boris Johnson, Esther McVey, Dominic Raab. I don’t know who’s going to win but if it’s Raab or Johnson; they’ve said they would play hardball, they’ve said they would welcome no-deal; Esther McVey says the same thing. But come the moment you’re in office, who knows what their position will be. Only a fool makes predictions.
“The EU repeatedly says in public that the withdrawal agreement cannot be reopened but the political declaration can. The trouble with the political declaration is that it’s not legally binding while the withdrawal agreement is. So you’re talking apples and oranges here. That doesn’t really help. The question is, that if no-deal really seriously starts to loom because things can’t be resolved, finally the EU’s position will start to crack, and some compromise will be cooked up before the end of October. That is possible, particularly with the different dynamics created by a new leader on our side.
“And you’ve got new leaders impending on the European side. A new commission comes into action on the 1st of November. They may well not want to have to deal with Brexit anymore. And that is an argument, either for not extending on 31st October or an argument for doing a deal – and we’ll just have to see which way the cake is cut.”
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