It’s early days yet for the Prime Minister’s attempt to “break the logjam” in her words by meeting Jeremy Corbyn.
It’s optimistic thinking that the pair can agree on anything. Sit-down talks with the Labour leader could fail as soon as they were announced last night by Theresa May.
Will MPs ever find a majority for any Brexit option, the EU is asking again and again. The odds are slim.
A week today, Theresa May will be standing before 27 watchful European leaders at a summit in Brussels, all hopeful that she has a plan that she thinks enough MPs can finally get behind.
And that, shock horror, could be a softer Brexit.
She’ll be desperate for EU leaders to green-light her request for another extension, moving the no-deal Brexit cliff edge for a second time, from next Friday to 22nd May, by which time she hopes the UK’s withdrawal will be done and dusted – crucially before her red line, the EU elections, which begin the following day.
So in just over a month: agree an extension, get a Brexit deal over the line AND avoid European elections.
It sounds like the stuff of miracles.
And apparently miracles can only be granted by the EU if Theresa May commits to those elections, passing legislation for them for legally unavoidable reasons, but only as a contingency measure if she delivers her deal (explained ably here by my colleague, Mark Stone).
But failure to get Brexit over the line and the UK is looking at European elections and another delay to Brexit.
Quite how long, nobody really knows. The prime minster wants it to be “as short as possible”, but there’s little trust in EU circles in what she says anymore.
Standing beside the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday that a long extension is “far from evident or automatic”.
It would need a clear reason, and a new approach.
So sure enough, on the same day that the hardline leader demanded that Britain tell Europe what it wants and tell them “now”, in the evening the Prime Minister’s podium moment came, heeding the call for some clarity.
Macron’s concern is that the UK could jeopardise the EU’s key institutions on its way out, before a new Commission and its President are elected in the summer. Hence why he reportedly pushed for an even earlier exit of 7th May at last month’s Brussels summit.
The priority must be the workings of the EU and the single market, Macron warned, repeating his now familiar line that the EU can’t be held hostage by Britain’s self-made “political crisis”.
Not every leader is quite so alarmist.
European Council president Donald Tusk tweeted “let us be patient”. This from the same official who called on MEPs in Strasbourg just a week ago to consider a long extension.
All indications are that – through gritted teeth – even Macron would join his EU counterparts in agreeing to a long extension, unanimously as per the voting rules.
Here’s the blunt truth: however much leaders are at pains to point out that there are plenty of other important issues, such as trade and the EU economy, Brexit will drag on for years regardless.
Talks on the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be even more painful and protracted.
Speaking in Paris, Leo Varadkar said that the EU should avoid a “rolling extension”, so the possibility is that it would be a long one that could be shortened, instead of vice-versa.
Another condition – that there is a sliver of a chance that a new approach can get a majority in the House of Commons.
The signals from MPs in Westminster point to a different form of Brexit. One possibility could be remaining in a customs union with the EU – an option that Jeremy Corbyn has been calling for and one which performed best in the series of indicative votes.
Indeed, Macron yesterday cited a customs union as a specific option the European Union would be being open to considering.
It would be a red line for Mrs May, causing a likely mutiny of Cabinet ministers.
But crucially, it’s been the Prime Minister’s stubborn red lines up until now that have, in great part, brought us to this impasse.
The non-legally binding, ambitious document on the UK’s post-Brexit future relationship could be changed “in a period of days and weeks”, according to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, to take into account something like a customs union.
The alternative, however, could be a no-deal Brexit.
No matter how hard the talk is from the French President, he stood next to Mr Varadkar and admitted that their countries – France and Ireland – stand to be the most affected by a no-deal.
“We will never abandon Ireland or the Irish people no matter what happens”, Macron said.
So why would the EU want to be seen to be inflicting so much pain on itself by favouring no-deal over a long extension?
With European elections next month set to be another show of strength for populist, eurosceptic forces across the continent, a no-deal would be like throwing a red rag to a bull.
Italy’s far-right deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini has called Brexit talks “an attempt on the part of Brussels to punish”.
And in the German Bundestag, co-leader of the far-right nationalist party, Alternative für Deutschland, has criticised Chancellor Merkel for being “partly responsible” for Brexit, for her failure to help out the UK.
Talk of no-deal has ramped up across the continent in recent days, amid fears of it happening accidentally.
The EU wants to be seen as being ready for every Brexit eventuality.
It’s why Brussels will begin a series of news conferences later about the effect of a no-deal on everything from food safety to fisheries.
Tomorrow, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will head for Dublin for her own meeting with Leo Varadkar, precisely because she is worried that preparations for a no-deal Brexit in Ireland, with its obvious border complications with the UK post-Brexit, aren’t as advanced as they should be.
There’s lots riding on talks producing a way forward between now and next Wednesday’s Brussels summit.
But as things stand, the UK will leave either with a deal or without a deal in just 9 days.
To really make some headway, Theresa May will finally have to give up her red lines to deliver Brexit.