Don’t let the Brexit flextension fool you – in real terms, we’ve only got a month to sort things out

We are exactly 29 weeks away from new Brexit Day. If last year is anything to go by, our parliamentarians will be on ‘recess’ – what you and I call holiday – for about 16 of them

Thursday 11 April 2019 13:35 BST
'Please do not waste this time': Donald Tusk issues UK warning as Brexit is extended to October

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Donald Tusk, friend of Britain and president of the European Council, warns the UK that the six-month “flextension” until 31 October must not be “wasted”. Well, sorry Donald, but that is exactly what’s about to happen between now and Halloween. Just watch.

We will fritter away the time mainly because our members of parliament, who will need to vote on stuff and pass laws, will be on holiday for large chunks of the period between now and the new, provisional, Brexit day (which is, by the way, more than three years after the 2016 referendum).

Today, we are exactly 29 weeks away from the new Brexit day. If last year is anything to go by, our parliamentarians will be on “recess” – what you and I call holiday – for about 16 of them, so roughly four months in all. Set that against the usual holiday entitlement for most people of four to six weeks in total.

Plus, MPs traditionally don’t do much parliamentary work on a Friday or a Monday, and there’ll be other stuff to get through such as budgets and legislation about knife crime and the like. Also the fact-finding trips to the Seychelles and the United States. You know, running the country for the many, not the few…

So that leaves about a month in real terms for us to sort out Brexit. It’s not gonna happen.

Such is our MPs’ preference for time on the ski slopes or the beach, or their desire to stay in touch with their constituents and local business – take your pick – that they can hardly bear to hang around in the comfortable surroundings of the Palace of Westminster for much more than a month at a time.

They would have us believe Westminster is some sort of workhouse for the 21st century. I agree the plumbing is a bit dodgy, but I wonder how many MPs could get through a shift at Amazon or Sports Direct?

Even in the last few weeks of febrile activity, since the vital November EU summit, the Commons and their lordships managed to catch a good few weeks to recharge the old batteries before coming back to waste what little time was left before two rubbery Brexit deadlines were abandoned. Well done, honourable and right honourable members.

Here is the Commons’ record from last year, if you think I am exaggerating, and you can judge for yourself:

Easter holiday: 29 March to 16 April

May holiday (no pun): 3 May to 8 May

Whitsun holiday: 24 May to 4 June

Summer holiday: 24 July to 4 September

Conference holiday: 13 September to 9 October

Not bad, eh?

MPs talk an awful lot about “hard-working families” and all that, but some of them aren’t exactly Stakhanovites. Some, as the latest scandal about the profits they’ve made on their “second” homes funded by the taxpayer shows, are greedy with it.

Some, it is only fair to add, work hard, and don’t take the mickey out of the system. But, at a time of national crisis such as this, when the EU has done us the favour of allowing us more time to come up with something, the public, and indeed the EU, may well wonder why our politicians will be spending so much of this most precious resource – time – getting away from it all.

I’ve heard of Brexit fatigue, and we all need some rest and recuperation, but four months off between now and October is a bit of an insult.

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There are other reasons why time is not the answer. There are too many vested interests in failure – such as Labour politicians wanting to destabilise the prime mister, and Tory politicians wanting to destabilise the prime minister.

Many of our politicians cannot accept the referendum result. Some cannot accept that things have gone wrong. Some cannot accept that no deal has been virtually made illegal.

Some, such as Angela Leadsom, David Davis and the DUP, are under the delusion that the EU – including Ireland – is prepared to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement to take out the Irish backstop.

No deal has been ruled out by the UK and the EU, while all the varieties of soft Brexit are unsatisfactory to one blocking minority or another.

The only realistic option left is to stay in, preferably after a second vote. It is humiliating, but not as humiliating as never-ending Brexit, frankly. We’ll get over it. We could save a lot of time by just ending the agony now, accepting that Brexit is unworkable, and revoking Article 50. Then we could have all the time in the world to sort out what we want. We might even try persuading the EU to reform itself from within…

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