Two-year Brexit delay would inflict nervous breakdown on UK – Bill Jamieson

Bill Jamieson’s anxiety over the prospect of a two-year delay to Brexit appears to be affecting the mental health of his cat.

I blame Brexit. I am having to book our beloved cat, Poosie Nancy, into sessions with a cat behavioural psychologist. Confused behaviour, loss of direction and loud caterwauling at night when BBC Newsnight comes on, starting up again in the morning with the Radio 4 Today programme and the latest news from Theresa May.

Poosie originally came from Fife which, our Edinburgh vet opines, may explain her ferocious fighting at the surgery. He has recommended the anti-anxiety plug-in diffuser Feliway to calm her down. It has had no effect on her but sends me to sleep in the armchair five minutes earlier than normal.

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So now it’s the cat psychiatrist. I have visions of the scene from the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and her being summoned by the needle-wielding Nurse Ratchet to the music of Mantovani’s Charmaine.

Could we be getting so stressed out about Brexit that its starting to affect our pets? (Picture (posed by model): Ian Rutherford)
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It may well be she is picking up my own Brexit anxieties. It has driven me beyond exasperation. Now there is talk of lengthy delay to avoid a ‘no deal’. It’s not Nurse Ratchet I see poised with the needle to keep us quiet. It’s Theresa May.

Curiously, I had been told last week by a source close to the Prime Minister’s Brexit aides that there was a plan to delay Brexit for two years. I thought it absurd and it ended with me shouting down the phone. Poosie cried and cavorted around the room.

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Now we are told this week by the ITN political correspondent of overheard remarks in a Brussels pub by chief Brexit adviser Olly Robbins that just such a delay may be on the cards.

Two more years of Brexit? Don’t stretch all along the psychiatrist’s couch, Poosie. Leave room for me.

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Now it may be that Mr Robbins was “misheard”, or that he “miss-spoke”. Or it might have been a deliberate speaking aloud – calculating that his remarks would be picked up and reported to scare Brexit-supporting MPs into supporting the Prime Minister’s amended (or unamended) deal when she comes back to the Commons from Brussels.

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Faced with the choice of her deal or an extended Brexit delay, even the most ardent Brexiteer could be reduced to a state of demonic caterwauling. Enter Nurse Theresa with the dripping syringe.

However, there are many who would prefer such a delay to ‘crashing out’ with no deal on March 29. Really? The obligations of EU membership would continue to apply during such an extension – the requirement to pay into the EU budget, for example. And there would be an obligation to take part in the European Parliament elections, with campaigning to choose 78 MEPs with six in Scotland beginning in mid-April and the voting itself being held on 23 May. The new parliament is scheduled to assemble on 2 July, and if the Brexit withdrawal is extended beyond then, the UK would face legal objections if it sought to avoid taking part.

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Such an outcome would be a gift for further disputation and mayhem here, not confined to Westminster but extended throughout the country. And it would also create consternation across the continent. As Martin Howe QC points out, proposals to cut the number of MEPs from 751 to 705, reflecting the UK’s departure, would need to be postponed. And as the rules stand, the UK MEPs, once elected, would be entitled to remain members of the European Parliament for the rest of their five-year terms, regardless of when the UK leaves the EU.

Any extension would require the unanimous consent of each of the 27 member states within the European Council. This would put enormous power in the hands of each individual country which may have demands it wants to make. Spain, for example, may well pick the moment to launch further questions on Gibraltar.

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As if all this was not enough, the current European Parliament term will end on 18 April, and Article 50(2) requires that the European Parliament must consent to any Withdrawal Agreement before the EU can conclude it.

As for the political battle itself, these elections are widely expected to see a surge in support for populist Euro-sceptic parties across the continent, and pro-EU parties here would seek to counter this. The SNP would be particularly keen to flaunt its pro-EU credentials, as would the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

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For Labour and Conservatives, there would be deep trouble. On what platform would these parties stand and what support would they be likely to muster from their deeply divided memberships? There would almost certainly be a pro-Brexit party that could see Mrs May’s Conservatives facing a potential wipe-out. And where would the Prime Minister’s credibility be then – as if it is not already at breaking point?

Meanwhile, a further defeat for her Withdrawal Agreement in the Commons would trigger her resignation and add to pressure for a general election. The Scottish Conservatives have enough to fear over such an outcome. But if Boris Johnson emerges as Tory leader, polls indicate that the fall in Conservative support could be even worse.

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Scots do not care for his persona and style. We tend to prefer political leaders who do not appear frivolous or cavalier with office. The party’s prospects in Scotland would arguably be less formidable were its UK leader to have the gravitas and commitment to hard work displayed by the lugubrious Unionist leader Andrew Bonar Law, elected by a large majority as MP for Glasgow Central. Bonar Law may have been one of the briefest of UK prime ministers, but deserves a better place in history. As a long-standing and hugely respected senior minister in the Lloyd George coalition, he faced and overcame challenges graver than those facing the current Prime Minister.

Now bear in mind, throughout any prolonged delay, the further frustration and prolonged misery inflicted on the economy and business. Confidence and investment have already slumped. Extending the uncertainty would be a calamitous outcome, economically as well as politically.

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It’s enough to induce panic and anxiety far worse than the symptoms that have brought Poosie Nancy to the cat-flap door of Nurse Ratchet. Switch off the news? Reader suggestions welcome. For extended delay would inflict a nervous breakdown on us all.