Another Brexit autumn

The fitful progress of Brexit produces natural rhythms of activity. The summer lull, followed by the autumn rush/panic.

Hard to believe that less than a year ago we were having the Salzburg summit and wondering whether any text of a Withdrawal Agreement could be produced at all.

Simple times.

And now we get to look back on nearly 12 months of prevarication about what to do with the text that did get put together; 12 months in which it’s hard to say whether anything fundamental has actually changed.

The British government still would like to leave with a deal, but talks about being willing to leave with no deal if the terms aren’t good enough.

The British parliament still strongly dislikes leaving without a deal, but has no majority for any other course of action.

The EU27 would also prefer a deal, and would consider changes to the text if that got British ratification, but not if it compromises their underlying interests on the value of membership.

And the British public just remains divided and frustrated at the impasse, with a desire to see something done, to get it off the table and hogging the limelight.

Or, as I put it in a tweet earlier this week:

Indeed, this remains the most abiding impression of the summer: we’ve been here before.

I could tell you about the importance of process – alongside outcome – but I wrote about that a while back.

I could tell you about the fixed number of outcomes – leave with a deal, leave with no deal, don’t leave – but you’ve known that for years.

In short, there’s no much to say, even with this week’s bounce in prorogation.

Yes, we might observe that Leavers have been typically much more bloodless about decisive action, as against Remainers, and the way that reflects the unwillingness of the latter to accept the way in which this is not business-as-usual. We might note too that while the loss of sitting days compromises Parliament’s ability to express its view on what happens now, it’s not entirely clear what that view might be.

We could talk about how the dominant mode remains blame-avoidance, rather than problem-solving, with the attached note that the EU is keeping well out of this, having set up a position of “we’ll talk about alternatives, but the UK has to bring them” as its own “it wasn’t me” gambit.

But it’s all where we were back in May. And back in December last year.

There still are no good options in Brexit, in the sense of producing wide-spread positive outcomes for different groups. Instead, all options will come with costs – some significant – for someone, even for most.

All of which points to the response to date by those involved: let’s not decide right now.

Between the unwillingness to leave with no-deal, the unlikeliness of substantial renegotiation and the concern of forcing a general election (that might be held after 31 October), pushing to another extension still looks like the least problematic path for now.

So, expect a busy couple of months, but which might result on not much changing from now.