Peter Foster @pmdfoster Europe Editor of the Daily Telegraph. Formerly based in Washington DC, Beijing and New Delhi. Opinions my own. May. 31, 2019 5 min read

Is there middle path through the #Brexit impasse? It doesn't feel like it, but after a few days in Brussels I've sketched one out - before you burst out laughing, bear with me 1/thread 

So as things stand, the positions are clear. @MichelBarnier says the Withdrawal Agreement is the "only option" and the EU member states concur. 

Am told at EUCO dinner this week this was repeated: "not a dot or comma will change", per UK source. /2

And given that even softer Tory leadership candidates like @Jeremy_Hunt says that the Withdrawal Agreement must be renegotiated, it would seem that any new PM is on a collision course with the EU. /3

It is true in that @nybooks interview Barnier does remind everyone of the EU's willingness to engage with "alternative arrangements" on the Irish border, but while this is a key component, it is not enough. The new leader will need to look for something on the Withdrawal Ag /4

At which point, we can all go home, right? How many times does the EU need to say it is not renegotiating the deal before the UK realises that it is not bluffing?

Well, it may not be quite that simple... /5

To be clear, a successful renegotiation should be no-one's base-case, but there are times when both 'no dealers' and 'stop Brexit' camps prefer to shut their ears to possibilities.

So after chats in Brussels, I'd make the following observations... /6

A new Prime Minister makes a difference - and will have to be given a hearing by the EU side.

The EU will not to be seen to stick its fingers in its ears. Early meetings in Paris and Berlin are not likely to be refused. /7

Recall that distrust in @theresa_may had turned to disdain.

Everyone in Europe knew she was a busted flush; knew that it was pointless handing her concessions, since it was clear that they would not get the Withdrawal Agreement over the line. /8

To have any chance of a reset, a new PM would also need not to fall into the trap of @theresa_may with her disastrous 2016 conference speech, boxing herself into impossible red lines.

When the new PM takes the stage in Manchester in September Europe will be watching /9

A new PM really committed to delivering #Brexit by Oct 31 will need to accept that 'bin the backstop' is not going cut it.

The Irish backstop is there because the UK can't answer how it will fix the border if it is leave CU and SM. /10

But as @MichelBarnier says there is space and willingness to try.

But the UK does not want to be trapped in this situation indefinitely, and the reassurances on this point Mrs May won at Strasbourg didn't cut it.

So what might move things for a new PM where May failed?

The obvious answer (and the EU is expecting this) is a time-limit to the backstop.

Again, an unrealistic demand to have it all done by end of transition in 2022 is going nowhere.

But what about something longer? 5-7 years post transition? /12

Not a chance! It's been ruled out a million times.

But recall that @theresa_may never got close to demonstrated that such a concession would clinch the deal.

A new PM must do that. Must demonstrate a clear, stable majority in Parliament. /13

Such a time-limit (a reinsurance policy, given that most trade deals take 5 years anyway) might also need to come with a rider that the Good Friday Agreement would still pertain at its expiry. That is one idea I've heard kicked around. /14

On one level it's a statement of fact - the UK will still be bound by the GFA - but the Irish government continues to fear that British government might not live up to its obligations (why it wants the backstop, after all). /15

Why would Ireland agree? Why would the EU?

Well, it hard-arse realpolitik. The Taoiseach would be given the 'choice' but do not think that they would not come under pressure from other EU MS who understand the backstop as much from SM integrity standpoint as GFA. /16

It's the old conundrum. A no deal in 5-7 weeks time (with all that means for the border and Ireland's relations with EU26) or a political headache in 5-7 years.

The UK has never presented the EU with this choice. It avoids no deal and creates a deep space for gravity to work/17

Now, I'd need another entire thread to rehearse the objections to this - why it won't work - but that doesn't mean it is not worth pondering whether the middle road, as 'no deal' hurtles towards us on Oct 31, cannot be rediscovered. /18

If I'm betting, then honestly speaking, I doubt it can.

The negative coalition of 'No dealers' and 'No Brexiters' makes chances of a PM getting a solid (50 or so) majority for such a plan extremely low.

But can impending crisis - and the fear elections - concentrates minds?/19

I am told (on our side) a time-limit would necessitate re-opening the WA.

You can't do it with an 'exchange of letters', and when you re-open the text (to fix 'unless and until, goods on the market etc) you open a Pandora's Box potentially to new requests. /20

It also seems that, on both sides of the Channel, a mixture of anger, hubris, self-delusion, impatience and exhaustion with #Brexit is starting to inure everyone to the perils of 'no deal'. Too many people are arguing it is a route, however painful, to a settlement. /21

Perhaps it's way too late to put lipstick on the pig now. Maybe the juggernaut cannot be stopped now - either a 'no deal' or a constitutional car-crash followed by an election/second referendum is the only way to break the #Brexit fever.

But no harm in pondering.. /22 ENDS

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