BRUSSELS — With less than 48 hours before Britain’s scheduled departure, the European Union extended the exit deadline early Thursday until the end of October, avoiding a devastating cliff-edge divorce but settling none of the issues that have plunged British politics into chaos, dysfunction and recrimination.
Fittingly, the new deadline for Britain to get out of the EU is October 31, Halloween. As the BBC put it this morning, that’s both a trick and a treat.
The treat is that the UK gets to postpone the disastrous no-deal crash out that tomorrow would have brought. The trick is that the delay solves nothing, and has the counterproductive effect of taking the immediate pressure off the British parliament to find a way out of the European Union that they can actually agree to.
The dynamic is reminiscent of the caution that negotiation and conflict resolution scholar I. William Zartman makes about the downside of ceasefires in a stalemated civil war. The upside of a ceasefire, Zartman acknowledges, is that the killing stops, at least temporarily. The downside, though, is that a ceasefire allows both sides to become comfortable with the stalemate and gives them no incentive to negotiate an actual end to the war.
Sometimes, Zartman suggests, it’s better to let the parties race up to and even across the precipice of disaster so that the resulting pain forces a resolution once and for all. A no-deal Brexit would be painful indeed, but perhaps necessary for the UK to snap to its senses.
Because frankly, given their inability to figure this out over the last almost three years of deliberation and negotiation, there’s little to suggest that more time will produce much beyond more dithering and dysfunction.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera has been reporting on the very same thorny issues of Brexit, identity, and conflict in Northern Ireland that my colleague and I are exploring in our research. Give a watch.