Delayed Brexit may be best for UK, EU

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Anti-Brexit protesters, in London, with their eyes covered with blindfolds attend a demonstration demanding a second referendum, or ‘People’s Vote’. Xinhua

Divorce can be costly, especially when there is no prenuptial agreement in place. The United Kingdom is finding this out the hard way as it tortuously tries to decouple itself from the European Union.

In the latest development, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has told Members of Parliament that she will give them three choices: approve the deal she has struck with the EU; vote to leave the bloc on March 29 without a deal; or ask the EU to delay Brexit by up to three months.

It is the first time that Ms May has revealed to the public that the UK may stay within the EU for at least three more months, although March 29 is the date fixed for the formal divorce with the bloc.

Ms May had long stated that it was either her deal or no deal. But the growing realization among all but the most die-hard Brexiteers that a no deal would be highly damaging to the UK, and the fact that her deal in its original form has already been rejected, has forced her to agree to offer the choice of a delayed Brexit.

The prime minister has said she will bring her deal back to the House of Commons by March 12 with new assurances from the European Union that the Irish border backstop is a temporary measure, although whether that will garner her the support she needs remains to be seen.

However, there is a growing appreciation of how costly a no-deal divorce would be for the UK. According to a UK government report it could shave 6-9 percent off the UK’s economic growth over the next 15 years. Just 40,000 of 240,000 businesses that trade with the EU have obtained the required customs clearance numbers, according to reports this week. And only six of the 40 planned international trade agreements have been signed.

EU countries will also be affected, of course, but they are still in a big family, which means they already have a support network to better cope with the effects of the breakup.

All this led to growing calls in the UK for a delayed Brexit, so that it would have more time to get its house in order. Ms May has now heeded those calls.

So will the divorce go ahead on March 29 or will it be delayed? At the moment it’s a case of you pay your money and you take your choice.

Whatever the answer, China stands ready to work with both the UK and the EU. Likewise it hopes they will work together to do their best to limit the uncertainties stemming from their divorce.

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