This morning, President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, tweeted: “During my consultations ahead of #EUCO (European Council meeting), I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it”.
This is a hugely welcome intervention – one that will be music to the ears of many MEPs and MPs alike. Which is why I have joined a cross-party group of MEPs in writing to Mr Tusk to agree with him that we do indeed need sufficient time to reframe the narrative, moving it on from frustration and brinkmanship to cooperation and reconciliation.
The chaotic and turbulent Brexit process is proving just how difficult it is to leave a body we have been an integral part of for nearly 50 years. It is also difficult because of the passionate refusal by so many in the UK to relinquish their membership of the EU, their European citizenship and their commitment to the European peace project. Furthermore, given the proven criminal activities associated with the Leave campaigns and allegations of outside interference, particularly from Russia, Brexit for many is characterised as a battle between authoritarianism and democracy; between nationalism and international cooperation. Small wonder the UK is now the country with the strongest pro-EU campaign groups anywhere in our continent.
The situation in the UK Parliament is in such disarray and flux that it could move towards either majority support for a second referendum, or even a unilateral revocation of Article 50. An extended Article 50 extension would therefore allow us the time and space for these options to be fully explored; options which would ultimately be far more in the interests of the European Union than the UK leaving under the terms of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement.
Given that the relationship between the UK and EU under the terms negotiated will remain the same until the end of 2020, we have requested that Tusk and the EU27 agree to extend the Article 50 process until that time, allowing the UK the flexibility to decide at which point it moves from a status of negotiating partner to the status of a partner in transition. Alternatively, the decision to leave might be reversed during that period, meaning a movement from negotiating partner to continued membership of the European Union.
What a boost it would be for the EU if the UK changes its mind. We will become the member with the strongest pro-EU movement and with our commitment to continued membership greatly reinforced.
Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for South West England and Gibraltar.