Analysis & Comment

John Downing: 'Brexit reversal would be loved here – but is still unlikely to occur'

A senior legal adviser at the EU Court of Justice has said the UK could unilaterally back out of the Brexit process if it wished. It is the job of the lawyer, called an advocate general, to identify key issues in a case and suggest a verdict.

In eight out of 10 cases the judges’ final ruling upholds the advocate’s opinion. That leaves a 20pc chance that the verdict could go with the view of the European Commission and Council of Ministers that reversing the EU-UK divorce process requires unanimous approval of the other 27 member states.

We expect the EU judges’ final verdict within weeks. But the clock continues to tick with March 29 next year the final date for Brexit to become a reality.

Yet the court lawyer’s preliminary opinion has emboldened Remain supporters in the UK. It gave sterling a very brief boost amid hopes a no-deal crash-out Brexit is less likely. And it has again stoked up calls for a rerun of the June 2016 Brexit referendum which saw UK voters opt to quit the EU by 52pc to 48pc.

Ireland would adore a reversal of the Brexit process. But it remains a long-shot and there are many obstacles in the path of such an outcome.

First off, Prime Minister Theresa May has promptly ruled out any reversal of the EU-UK divorce process and is continuing her uphill battle to win UK MPs’ approval for her much-criticised Brexit deal, signed off at a special European summit on November 25. Mrs May’s days in Downing Street may one way or another be numbered and observers agree there could be at least four outcomes to follow the expected rejection of her Brexit deal.

It is clear that any new prime minister, be they from the Conservative Party or Labour, would not dare pull out of Brexit without some kind of new vote. Opinion polls suggest such a referendum rerun might well deliver a vote in favour of the UK staying in the EU by about 60pc to 40pc.

But there are many grounds to believe another referendum would still be hugely divisive and rather inconclusive. It is hard to see a second referendum, without a thumping Remain majority, resolving this issue which has convulsed the British for at least 20 years.

The UK’s Electoral Commission has already signalled that it wants six months’ notice to have proper registration of the various referendum canvass groups and full supervision of their funding. So, we are looking at next June at the earliest for such a referendum. That would be three months after the scheduled Brexit deadline.

That raises the question of an extension. This would require a specific request from London and unanimous approval of the remaining 27 member states.

Such an EU extension approval cannot be taken for granted either. When the draft Brexit deal was cleared on November 25, there was a sense from all the EU leaders that the UK passed the point of no return.

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