The Slatest

Today in Brexit: With May Pivoting to the Center, Will the EU Give Her Time to Strike a New Deal?

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, the German Chancellor leader of Germany and the French President leader of The Republic of France, walking sideways apart, separately from the European leaders while talking, during the Special European Council Meeting EU leaders Summit about Brexit and Article 50 in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2019
The Brexit ball is now in German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron’s court.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Today in Brexit is a daily feature that will attempt to keep track of the chaotic mess playing out in the U.K. If you’re just tuning in, here’s a brief explainer on what you’ve been missing. 

British Prime Minister Theresa May dropped the latest monkey wrench in the U.K.’s already kludgy effort to leave the European Union on Friday by asking Brussels for another deadline extension to leave the bloc, pushing the exit date from this Friday at 11 p.m. to June 30. The request itself signaled a new phase of the Brexit process, one where May appears to have given up on galvanizing the recalcitrant extremes of her own party to reach a compromise, instead turning her attention to the opposition Labour Party to find a way out of the deadlock. With the political ground suddenly shifting after years of inertia, the British prime minister took to social media over the weekend to explain the state of play in the negotiations—and the choice before the country, as she sees it.

Today in the Friendly Opposition: “Now there’s lots of things on which I disagree with the Labour Party on policy issues,” May said in the video. “But on Brexit there are some things I think we agree on: Ending free movement, ensuring we leave with a good deal, protecting jobs, protecting security.” It’s an extraordinary moment in British politics that the party in power is compelled to reach out to the opposition. May’s Conservative Party, after all, heads a majority coalition in Parliament that could enact whatever kind of Brexit—or any other policy—it wants if its members were all on the same page.

The Tories are very much not on the same page, however. With a significant portion of the party in favor of leaving the EU on Friday no matter what, May and the more moderate wing of her party are now looking across the aisle. The Labour Party has spent years on the sideline with essentially no say in the process but is now a potential last resort for the government to cobble together some semblance of a compromise that May couldn’t produce within her own party.

The first order of business for May is avoiding a no-deal Brexit, which a U.K. government analysis found could cost the British economy tens of billions. May spent years negotiating an exit deal with Brussels that, in the end, didn’t make anyone happy. To the far right, it doesn’t go far enough in extracting the U.K. from the day-to-day economic and political influence of the EU, while the left largely prefer a far closer economic relationship with the EU after leaving the bloc—or not leaving at all.

Today’s Emergency Barnstorming Tour: An emergency summit in Brussels is scheduled for Wednesday, just two days before the deadline for the U.K. to depart. May is trying to buy more time to come up with a domestic solution, but European leaders have been reluctant to just hand over another extension without some semblance of a plan or a change of circumstance, like a national election or another referendum. May is pitching her cross-party talks with Labour as realistic enough to justify a short extension, and she will be barnstorming through Berlin and Paris to try to get German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on board ahead of Wednesday’s summit.

Today in Grand Compromises: What does a grand May-Labour compromise look like? It’s too early to tell exactly, but it will likely involve a closer working relationship with the EU in the form of a customs union, which would allow the U.K. economy essentially to stay connected to and operate freely within Europe. This option is particularly odious to the right-wing Brexiteers because it largely binds the U.K. to EU trade rules, and the Brexiteers would like to the U.K. have control over its own rules. Another priority for Labour—after years of having the football pulled back as they raced to kick it—is creating what it calls a “lock” on whatever deal is reached in order to ensure that whoever succeeds May as prime minister can’t simply undo whatever has been agreed to. (May has committed to stepping down as soon as Brexit is complete.)

May’s government has described the new talks as “technical” discussions, which seems vaguely positive, all things considered, and both sides are saying cross-party negotiations will continue, as they attempt to come up with an exit strategy that they can convince a majority of parliamentarians to accept—and of course, the rest of Europe to sign off on.

Days left until Brexit deadline: 4.