Unless the squabbling Parliament can get its act together, the United Kingdom could automatically crash out of the European Union on March 29, an event generally perceived as a disastrous course of action setting back the nation’s economy for years to come.
More than two years of negotiations have led to a stalemate. Cabinet ministers, opposition leaders, lawmakers and the public at large cling to irreconcilable positions. Emotions run high and so do tempers. Brexiteers and Remainers alike feel betrayed by the political establishment.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s compromise deal drafted upon her own red lines without broad consultation has been overwhelmingly voted down twice yet she stubbornly plugs it as the only one in town and hopes it will be third time lucky this week. Tory defector Anna Soubry who recently joined the newly formed Independent Group accuses the leadership of having “many pairs of tin ears”.
Parliamentarians who voted to exclude a no-deal Brexit accuse the lady of cynically running down the clock, holding a gun to their heads. The impasse means May, who has said over 100 times that Britain will leave on the 29th deal or no-deal, has been forced to ask the EU for a three-month extension requiring the approval of 27 member states. Their assent is by no means certain.
EU leaders are tired of this saga and are anxious to move on. EU Council President Donald Tusk, who once said “there is a special place in hell” for Brexit campaigners, will ask EU heads of state to agree to “a long extension”.
That is an absolute anathema for hardline Brexiteers like arch Euro-sceptic Nigel Farage, who three years ago cynically sold Brexit as a panacea for all Britain’s ills and is now actively lobbying EU states to reject Number 10’s request. A single dissenting country could quash that option.
The prime minister’s mantra of ‘My deal or no deal’ has morphed into “My deal or no Brexit”. Presented with this Hobson’s choice and with their backs against the March 29 wall there is a chance that May will snatch triumph from the jaws of defeat. But without genuine support from any side her victory would be hollow.
Whichever spin is placed on Brexit, it has thrust the country into uncharted territory. Should we the people have been handed such a heavy responsibility impacting generations to come while being fed with fake promises and false accusations that warnings from economists, bankers and business leaders constituted ‘Project Fear’.
The consensus is the UK will be worse off whatever form it ultimately takes at least in the short to medium term. As of March 11, 217,869 jobs have been lost. Although the government has made an utter hash of the process, there is no appetite for a people’s vote or for a general election which polls indicate the Conservatives would win. A second referendum would be undemocratic argue the parliamentary naysayers, ironic when May’s wounded deal gets a third chance to pass.
United Ireland, Scottish independence
Britain’s worldwide standing and reputation for pragmatism have been diminished. Moreover, depending on which way the wind blows during coming weeks, Great Britain could end up physically diminished, cut down in size, facing a loss of global influence. The leader of Sinn Fein Mary Lou McDonald says Brexit has placed the issue of a united island of Ireland and Scottish independence “front and centre”. The Scottish National Party (SNP) demands a second referendum permitting Scotland to remain in the EU as an independent state. Tensions over the fate of Gibraltar have risen. Spain continues to demand co-sovereignty during a transitional period towards ultimate Spanish possession.
The UK does have the option of unilaterally cancelling Article 50 that kick-started the Brexit process, a painless procedure — or rather it would be if tribalism, raw emotion and nostalgia for the good old days of cocoa and crumpets when nobody knew any Polish plumbers did not trump good old fashioned common sense.
“We are British. We will pull through,” is a sentiment I’ve heard over and over. Unlike our hot-blooded French cousins rioting for their rights on the Champs Elysees, blessed with a stiff upper lip, we Brits shall overcome. Oh, how I wish we didn’t have to!
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.