So, the local elections are done and dusted, and we move onto the next of this year’s psephological treats: the European Parliament elections on 23 May.
Apparently, the trouncing of the pro-Brexit Tories and UKIP, a disappointing night for the disappointment that is the Labour Party, and a surge for the Remain- and People’s Vote-supporting Liberal Democrats and Greens tells us that the people just want the Tories and Labour to get on with sorting Brexit. Or something.
And maybe they do – one way or the other. But the hard truth is that MPs do not have very long to ‘sort’ Brexit.
Hallowe’en may have seemed a long way off when, on 11 April, MPs responded to Donald Tusk’s warning not to waste the Article 50 extension granted by the EU27 the previous day by literally laughing and cheering at Andrea Leadsom’s announcement that they could take the next week off. But by the time they returned to Westminster on 23 April, there were in fact only 73 parliamentary sitting (i.e. working) days until 31 October.
What’s more, MPs don’t have until 31 October to sort Brexit. At the very most, they have until the EU Council meeting on 17-18 October, at which the EU27 may or may not grant a further extension of Article 50. And, with MPs having piddled away seven sitting days since their Easter break, there are just 57 sitting days left until that Council meeting [but see Update, below].
To put that in perspective, there have been 91 sitting days since 14 November, when the Cabinet signed off the bungled, blindfold Brexit deal that Theresay May had just struck with the EU27. And, as you may have noticed, during that time, nothing has changed.
Worse still, when granting the six-month Article 50 extension to 31 October, the EU27 agreed that they would take a rain-check at their meeting on 20-21 June. And, as Andrew Duff of the European Policy Centre has noted, “if by then nothing has moved in London to break the [current] deadlock, the mood of the [EU27] chiefs will harden, Angela Merkel among them,” and the chances of a further Article 50 extension will lessen.
There are just 25 sitting days left until that Council meeting on 20-21 June. And, next week, MPs are set to piddle away another three days talking about wild animals in circuses (admittedly an important issue at any other time) and the 25th anniversary of the death of John Smith MP.
But maybe we’ll come back to earth within those 25 sitting days. Who can tell?
Update: On 9 May, Andrea Leadsom announced that MPs will get another recess, from 24 May to 4 June. As of 10 May, this reduces the number of parliamentary sitting days before the expiry of the Article 50 extension on 31 October to 59, and the number of sitting days before the EU Council meeting on 17-18 October to 50.
And it means there are now just 18 sitting days before the EU Council meeting on 20-21 June – eight before the Whitsun recess (and results of the European Parliament election on 23 May), and then another ten until the EU Council meeting.
Meanwhile, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats are squabbling about who was first to call for a second referendum (evidence suggests it was the Greens, on 1 July 2016), the Tories still haven’t quite decided whether to campaign in the European Parliament election, and – as Chris Grey notes on his blog – “Brexit is stuck on the same endless loop of nonsense we have been going round for years”.