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.”
The week started on a good note for British Prime Minister Theresa May. She reached an agreement with the European Union on a Brexit withdrawal draft deal, after months of obstacles and uncertainty. Yesterday, her cabinet gave its support to the deal.
Shortly afterward, May’s fortunes took a turn for the worse.
Two cabinet ministers, and two junior ministers resigned from their positions over the terms of the draft agreement. In Parliament, some Conservative members are moving to force a leadership contest. The road ahead will be a challenging one for May. If the British Parliament does not approve the draft May is likely dead politically. It also opens the possibility of the UK leaving the Union without an exit deal in place, a worst-case scenario that economists warn could plunge Britain into a recession.
It certainly seems as if May’s announcement was premature and is acting as a beacon to unite the elements in the government that are opposed to her handling of the Brexit divorce negotiations. The PM is standing firm though. She believes this deal is the best avenue for making Brexit a reality, and has stated her intent to see it through. Despite May’s resolve, the financial markets are growing jittery at the prospect of this deal not making it through Parliament. Sterling fell 1.7% against the dollar and 1.9% against the euro on Wednesday, and shares in UK banks have experienced a sharp fall too.
The political volatility in Britain is causing great unease in Brussels, and across the union. Events in Britain hold the very real chance of disrupting or wrecking the deal before the EU-UK Summit to be held on 25 November. It is at this summit meeting where May and EU officials were expected to make the deal official. The summit might not even occur, given the way things are going.
A lot can happen between now and the summit date to tilt the balance in May’s favor. Unfortunately, if the mutiny in her cabinet grows, it makes a leadership contest in Parliament appear more probable.
With time running out for a withdrawal agreement to be reached between Britain and the European Union, apprehension is rising in Brussels, and capital cities across Europe. Negotiations between Theresa May’s government and the EU appear to be going nowhere. The prospect of a no-deal Brexit being the end result continues to haunt both sides. A number of EU leaders have begun contingency planning, and serious preparation in case a no-deal Brexit becomes reality and Britain crashes out of the EU. National leaders are expected to begin ratcheting up the pressure on May, and emphasize that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for businesses in Britain, and in the EU alike. A preview of the line EU leaders will take with May was offered in Copenhagen on Wednesday. Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, informed his parliament: “It is the first time we are saying clearly to the British that we can end, in the worst scenario, with no deal.”
Tomorrow night, May will speak at a dinner in Brussels as the EU Summit opens. She is expected to outline the intentions of the British government in the coming weeks regarding negotiations. There has been little progress made on key issues such as the Irish Border question, and the future of Gibraltar. Dissention in May’s cabinet has not helped matters at all. She is convening a meeting of her ministers at Chequers on Friday and the hope is that some sort of agreement can be reached.
For the EU, Brexit will be overshadowed by migration. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political fate could very well be decided at the upcoming summit. Failure to reach some type of agreement with other nations on migrants runs the risk of toppling the precarious German government.
It could very well end up being to May’s favor that the focus of Merkel, and other EU leaders is firmly fixed on the migration crisis, and not Brexit. Should this turn out to be the case, it will give May some much-needed time to get Britain’s ducks in a row before negotiations on Brexit resume in the future.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton will be visiting Moscow in the coming week to try and lay groundwork for a meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin next month. Trump will be in Europe then for a NATO summit in Brussels, and then a state visit to Great Britain. The proposed mini-summit of sorts between the two leaders is the latest attempt by the White House to build a friendlier relationship with Russia. Earlier this month at the G7 Summit in Quebec, Trump tried unsuccessfully to convince the other members to readmit Russia, which was suspended in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea. Relations between the US and Russia have been cold for quite some time, though there has been a large amount of backchannel discussion between the two nations over security concerns, namely Syria.
It is worth noting that there are no plans to include European leadership in a potential July talks. The exclusion of EU members, and NATO allies sends a blunt message to Europe about the reemergence of US leadership on the global stage, and the current state of relations between the United States and Europe. The Trump administration does not intend to be encumbered by European actions and interests, or be bound by a lack of consensus among its European allies. Right now, Washington and Europe have significant disagreements on a host of issues including security, trade, and immigration. There’s little chance an overall agreement could be reached right now on how to approach Russia.
Therefore, the United States sees fit to take the lead.
Attention is focused on Washington DC today as the world waits to see how the United States chooses to respond to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria on 7 April. This morning it was announced that President Trump will not be attending the Summit of the Americas in Peru, or traveling to Bogota, Columbia afterwards as planned. Instead, the president will remain in Washington to “oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world” according to the White House. This recent development has increased speculation that US military action could be coming soon. Reports that Trump has been in consultation with London and Paris suggest a broader Western military response is possible as well.
In fact, the possibility of British involvement at the very least is growing. A short time ago I spoke to an associate of mine who lives a short distance away from RAF Akrotri, the British airbase on Cyprus. He verified that the level of activity there has increased over the past few hours and shows no sign of dropping off. Right now I am trying to obtain more information from him. If I do, I will pass it along.
On the military front, numerous reports surfaced yesterday that the destroyer USS Donald Cook was moving into waters near Syria, and Russian aircraft were conducting low level flights nearby. The Pentagon denied the reports and they were never confirmed by any major independent media outlets. If Cook is in the vicinity of Syria it makes sense for Russian aircraft to harass any potential TLAM shooters, and keep a close eye on them as the situation unfolds. It should also be noted that given the range of the TLAM, Cook does not have to be anywhere close to the Syrian coastline. She could launch cruise missiles from practically anywhere in the Mediterranean. However, given political considerations and such, it does make sense to volley TLAMs as close to Syria as the situation allows.
It is mid-afternoon here in the eastern United States and there is much happening with regards to Syria from Washington to Europe, and the Med. I’ll try and post another update early in the evening and offer some thoughts about if or when military action against the Syrian government might begin.