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What did we learn from a chaotic EU summit on Brexit?

After a chaotic 48 hours and more than a little political ducking and diving, next week's looming Brexit cliff edge has been pushed back - much to the relief of people who are in the direct firing line if it all goes wrong.

It is understandable then that, this weekend, EU leaders and British prime minister Theresa May will be trying to convince everyone all is right once again with the world.

But while their public confidence might be true, for now, the reality with the seemingly never-ending Brexit groundhog day is that even when one obstacle is - just about - avoided, several more are waiting just over the horizon.

While fears of a no deal crash out Brexit next Friday have evaporated, there is still no clarity on whether MPs will back the deal, if the delay is just the first in a series of endless "rolling" deadlines, and - crucially for us - how a no deal hard border will be avoided.

Questions over whether Ms May is secretly in favour of a crash out no deal, and separate confusion over Brexit's impact on the MEP elections, also remain on the agenda.

And although the EU is still pushing its united front in the face of a blatantly Disunited Kingdom, the frantic discussions over how long to agree to delay Brexit among leaders on Thursday night bear all the hallmarks of the first stress cracks in the EU wall.


Having just about survived this week, Ms May faces another dance with political death next week when she tables her battered Brexit deal for a third time in the House of Commons, most likely on Tuesday.

If MPs back it, the May 22 Brexit date is a certainty and all is well with the world. But if they reject it, the deadline is cut to April 12.

French president Emmanuel Macron believes Ms May has just a 5% chance of pulling back her previous 149-vote deal defeat, hardly a ringing endorsement.

And this grim prediction may explain why she will also table seven "indicative" votes on a deal, no deal, revoking article 50, a second referendum, and other matters next week.


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted on Friday the two - count 'em - new Brexit deadlines do not equal a "rolling" Brexit cliff edge. But it sure doesn't look like a nice, calm hill to stroll down either.

Whether politicians like it or not, the reality is the absolutely firm March 29 deadline has - for good reason - now morphed into April 12 and May 22.

And while the EU insists "Brexit fatigue" means another extension is not going to happen, if you give someone an inch - or in this case a couple of months - it only encourages further delays.


The sneaking suspicion among EU leaders in Brussels this week was that Ms May is increasingly opening herself up to a no deal, a view emphasised by reports she "spooked" rivals on Thursday night by refusing to rule it out.

Ms May's first option remains a deal. But with Brexiteers now firmly getting their claws into the beleaguered prime minister who is desperately clinging to power by any means necessary, it is legitimate to ponder what her second option will be.


While the Brexit delay caused cheers in most quarters, it also caused more than a few groans among officials responsible for organising the MEP elections.

The reason is simple: Britain must decide if it is running candidates by April 12, or it messes up the entire EU-wide May 23-24 election plans.

Leave, and Britain's seats are filled elsewhere. But remain - or at least daydream of wheat fields on the fence a little longer - and either the MEP plans are torn up or Britain will be told to stay in for far longer than planned.


As German chancellor Angela Merkel rightly pointed out in a private discussion on Thursday night, the EU has to find a way to avoid a no deal hard Irish border. And quickly.

With just three weeks until the next Brexit deadline, a solution must be found. It is isn't, Ireland's worst nightmare may yet come true.


Of course, is the obvious answer. And, for now, there is no reason to doubt this long-term fact. However, the clear confusion over the delay dates on Thursday night - with EU leaders rowing over April 11-12, April 18, May 7, May 22, and June 30 - was hardly a symbol of togetherness.

There is nothing to worry about, just yet. But, with the pressure mounting, nothing to ignore completely, either.