As 2020 draws to a close, the final curtain of the four and a half year long Brexit drama is now in sight. Great Britain will leave the European Union at 11:00 PM, 31 January, 2020. The largest unknown at the moment is whether or not the two sides complete a post-Brexit trade deal. Time is running out, as is patience as both sides struggle to get a deal in place before the end of the year. Deal or not, Britain is leaving the EU. With that said, it is in the interest of both parties to reach an agreement. Not doing so will bring the prospect of economic damage and border disruptions as a second wave of COVID-19 cases grips Europe.
Today, the European Parliament has set a Sunday deadline for negotiators to reach a post-Brexit trade deal. In light of the coming Christmas vacation, ratifying an agreement beyond Sunday will be difficult for the parliament. The chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said it will be “difficult but possible” to have a deal wrapped up by Friday. His view is certainly the minority opinion. Most other British and EU officials close to the negotiations, and were willing to speak off camera, believe a no-deal outcome is most probable.
Despite the cynicism of many diplomats and politicians, economic news has been largely positive today. European stocks and markets rose on hopes of a trade deal. The optimism was even found in currency markets where the pound and euro were trading strongly against the dollar. The solid economic performance is not likely to last for much longer unless a trade deal comes about. Should the year end without one, European markets will be the first to feel the pinch as yet another wave of uncertainty will arrive.
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.”