The British government is now moving ahead on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit. Michael Gove, who has been made responsible for no-deal preparations wrote in the Sunday Times that “No deal is now a very real prospect.” Newly installed Prime Minister Boris Johnson has wasted little time in grounding the British government so to speak. In the last six months of Theresa May’s tenure the British government had functioned under a cloud of uncertainty, so to speak. A no-deal Brexit was the white elephant in the room, so to speak. Even as it became clear that May’s Brexit deal was not going to pass, the possibility of a no-deal scenario was paid no mind. No preparations were discussed internally, and whenever ‘No-deal Brexit’ was uttered by a member of the government, a swarm of political pundits descended on media outlets to explain in detail why a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic to Britain, and perhaps the world. Bear in mind too, these folks said the same thing about Brexit back in June, 2016 so their knowledge, and credibility are questionable to say the least.
With Johnson now on Downing Street, reality is setting in. To be fair, a no-deal exit is not an attractive option. It is a very real possibility at this point, and the government is preparing for it. Extra funding is being made ready for no-deal essentials like additional Border Force officers, and improved port infrastructures. Some of the newly appointed officials in the Johnson government have even publicly stated that no-deal preparations are now the government’s top priority.
The Irish border backstop has been the main sticking point in negotiations between the EU and UK. Theresa May, and EU officials had decided that no matter what the outcome of Brexit, the border between Ireland (an EU member) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK) would not be hardened. It would remain unchanged, ensuring a link between Britain and the EU in the post-Brexit years. The backstop created a firestorm in British politics and is most responsible for derailing Theresa May’s Brexit deal, and ultimately her government. Keeping an open border between the EU and Britain is seen by many as keeping the UK in the EU.
Boris Johnson is committed to removing the backstop from a future exit deal. The European Union is equally as determined to keep the backstop in the plan as part of the agreement. With this stalemate, it only makes sense for the British government to begin preparing for a no-deal Brexit as the 31 October deadline comes closer.
Across Europe, governments are now contending with the domestic fallout, and consequences of the 2019 EU Parliamentary elections. For some national leaders, and governments the election results were favorable, but for some of the largest nations on the continent the EU election results have brought on fear, and uncertainty about the future. The after-effects have brought on a reckoning of sorts in some cases. Great Britain is certainly one of these nation-states, but it is not the only one.
Britain was not even supposed to take part in the past weekend’s elections. Its separation from the EU was scheduled to have happened by now. As we all are aware, that departure is now unlikely to take place before October, 2019. The government’s failure to abide by the original timeline was on the minds of many as they cast their ballots. Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, barely six weeks old, was the big winner, taking 31.6 percent of the vote. Britain’s two major political parties, Labour and the Conservatives suffered humiliating defeats. These parties now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to redefine themselves in order to remain relevant in post-Brexit British politics.
In short, Labour and Conservatives both need to become pro-Brexit parties. Regardless of what the polls say, the majority of Britons still want Brexit, even if the majority of politicians in both parties don’t. It became apparent to many Britons that Theresa May, and many Members of Parliament were doing everything possible to prevent Brexit from happening. Whether or not this is the case is a moot point. Because of the mainstream politicians dithering, and delaying, Nigel Farage came out of nowhere with a political party solely committed to making Brexit a reality, and thrashed Labour and the Conservatives.
Now, with the Conservatives preparing to select Theresa May’s successor, the resumes of prospective candidates will be scrutinized carefully. No politician who was lukewarm, or hesitant about Brexit stands a chance of taking over at 10 Downing St. The separation of Great Britain from the European Union has to happen at the end of October, or if at all possible sooner. Otherwise, the Brexit party might be there to pick up the pieces and steer Britain in a direction no one is ready for.
In the next entry we will look at the nations of Western Europe.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is under intense pressure to resign. Although it is probably too late, May is apparently now “listening to colleagues” about her Brexit withdrawal bill. She has halted plans to publish the legislation on Friday and will revise the bill again before it is published and debated before a vote in early June. However, it is unclear if that vote will even take place with Tory opposition deepening. On Tuesday, Brexit supporters were infuriated when May outlined a revised Brexit deal that would allow MPs to vote on whether to hold a second EU referendum. That point has triggered a near-revolt in her cabinet which is threatening to escalate.
To complicate matters even more, European Parliamentary voting has started today in the United Kingdom. The election is anticipated to bring a major victory for Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party. The chaos surrounding May’s withdrawal deal this week has been a gift for Farage. If his party wins big in the EU elections it could be disastrous for the Conservatives, and end up bringing about May’s resignation despite her efforts to preserve her position. If the EU parliamentary election results are as bad for Conservatives as feared, May could be forced to resign as the party leader by Monday at the latest.
Regardless of how the next few days play out, Theresa May’s time at 10 Downing Street is evidently coming to an end.
Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal deal with the European Union has been soundly defeated again. MPs rejected it for the second time today by 391-242. This was a smaller defeat than the first vote in January, but the margin is meaningless at this point. May’s Brexit strategy now lay in tatters, and Britain’s exit from the EU, scheduled to take place at the end of the month, appears likely to be a chaotic endeavor.
The next step will be a vote on whether Britain should leave without a deal, or if Brexit should be postponed. This upcoming vote might very well prove to be more critical than the one today. The concerns, and fears that a potential no-deal exit scenario are now being countered by equally passionate feelings of anxiety and suspicions that an Article 50 extension will eventually lead to a possible second referendum. Brexiteers are dead set against allowing another national referendum to take place. In the view of many Brexit supporters Britons have made their choice clear and it is up to the government to turn the wishes of the people into a reality.
At the center of the bedlam in London is the Prime Minister. Despite her best efforts, her government has suffered a second defeat. May’s power, and authority have been diminished and another no-confidence vote remains possible. Her political future remains very uncertain.
International leaders have started reacting to the vote results. Not surprisingly, European leaders are publicly quite disappointed at how the vote has played out. Now the leaders of EU member-states are beginning to circle the wagons, so to speak, in an effort to minimize the blowback that will arise from a no-deal British departure. As far as the EU is concerned, Brussels has done everything possible to bring about a solution acceptable to both sides and Britain has turned in down.
Perhaps it was Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s words which best describe the sentiment on the continent at the moment: “We regret the decision of the British Parliament despite the EU’s efforts to achieve the best possible agreement. The European project must move forward to ensure freedom, stability and prosperity. We need pro-European governments. Let’s protect Europe so that Europe will protect us.”
It would appear Theresa May has managed to secure new assurances from the European Union. Officially, May and the EU have agreed upon “legally binding changes” to the withdrawal agreement. The changes will not affect the terms of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal. It will instead serve as legal assurances preventing the UK from being trapped indefinitely in a customs union.
Now comes the hard part. Between now and tomorrow morning May has to determine if the latest changes will be enough to push her agreement through a very skeptical Parliament on Tuesday. Her main target will be the 100 or so Tory MPs who voted down her seal last month. If she can sway a majority of these votes in her favor, the agreement has at least a fair chance of passing.
The date for the UK leaving the EU is 29 March. If necessary, Brussels has indicated that a one-time extension can be applied. This route is not one which the EU wants to see become reality because it could very well interfere with the EU Parliament elections set to take place in late May. If the UK is still an EU member when that date arrives there are significant legal obstacles that need to be hurdled beforehand.
Come tomorrow the fate of the agreement, and perhaps of Brexit entirely, will be in the hands of the MPs in London.