Richard North, 28/10/2019  
 


The Guardian is getting terribly excited about its "exclusive", revealing the content of a draft decision on the UK's Article 50 extension, which has been "leaked" to the paper. You can't keep a good story down, though. It is now shared with the BBC, the Financial Times and even Reuters, with ample coverage on Twitter.

But, for all the excitement, we're looking at exactly the extension scenario that Johnson asked for in his original (enforced) extension request, complete with a break clause that allows the extension to be terminated early if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified before the end of the three-month period, still scheduled to end on 31 January 2020.

Of the French objections, and the prospect of a short extension, there is no sign. It seems that Tusk – who has been talking to the parties over the weekend – has been successful in convincing Macron that a three-month extension avoids the EU being dragged into the domestic row in the UK. This is the way EU demonstrates its neutrality.

Nevertheless, the cut-off has been tweaked. It is now proposed that we can leave at the end of the month during which the agreement is ratified. Thus, we could potentially be on our way out on either 30 November, 31 December or, if we go full term, on 31 January.

As to the status of this inspired "leak", it rests for the moment with the EU ambassadors (COREPER II) who are scheduled to meet this morning, ready to pass on their recommendations to the European Council. When the EU-27 leaders will formalise the decision is not known, but it is assumed they will keep to Tuesday before their "written procedure" takes effect – as long as there is progress on the election front.

That keeps open the possibility of the EU leaders changing the text, although this does seem unlikely at this stage, unless we see some dramatic developments through the day.

As with the previous extension decision, there is a clause stating that the extension "cannot be used to reopen the withdrawal agreement nor to start negotiations on the future relationship".

This is being taken as signifying the end of the line as far as further negotiations go, even though the similar provision in the last decision made no difference when it came to negotiating the deal with Johnson. But then, the Humpty Dumpty way with words seems to define the EU's way of working.

Where there is no ambiguity, though, is a demand that the UK nominates a Commissioner to serve after 31 October. For the period up until (potentially) 31 January, the UK will remain a full member of the European Union, with all the rights and obligations that that entails. Up to press, Johnson has refused to send anyone for the new Commission, which is still in the process of being formed.

It now remains to be seen whether this leak will be sufficient to stiffen the resolve of Jeremy Corbyn and his fractured Labour Party, when it comes to today's vote on whether to give the go-ahead for a general election.

Here, the crucial issue might be whether Johnson will continue to demand that MPs pass his WAB before 6 November, something the opposition parties are reluctant to accept. Today, therefore, might be a day of fast-moving horse-trading as all sides seek to find a formula which will allow an election to proceed.

On the cards is the so-called "plan B", devised by the Lib-Dems, which involves an amendment to the FTPA, allowing an election to proceed with only a simply majority in the Commons. Although it breaks the link between voting for the election and passing the WAB, Johnson apparently now accepts that this is his only realistic chance of side-lining Labour and holding a pre-Christmas election.

For all that, the issues have been rehearsed with such frequency that even the media seems to be struggling to maintain an interest, while real people are switching off in their droves. Sometime today, something may happen, or it may not. As to the party games in parliament, the mood amongst ordinary people seems to be "wake me up when they're over".

With the clocks going back on Sunday, though, we got the first taste of the dark evenings to come, which will make for a difficult election campaign. In a way, that symbolises where we're at. We are entering a period of darkness and it will be a long time before we see the light.






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