Chicago: With the United Kingdom due to leave the European Union on March 29, the draft agreement reached last week between both sides sets out the terms for that divorce.
But as with any divorce — London has been married to Brussels for 45 years — the terms of that agreement are leading to acrimonious and bitter regrets by at least one of the parties.
Since presenting the document to her cabinet on Tuesday evening. Prime Minister Theresa May has suffered the loss of four ministers — including Brexit minister Dominic Raab — a body blow to her government and personal standing.
What’s more, since coming up with the so-called ‘Chequers plan’ in the late summer, which formed the basis of the deal, she has lost Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and her previous Brexit minister David Davis.
But May is now facing a revolt within her own Conservative party, with leading hard-line Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg triggering the process for a leadership review.
To survive that leadership review, she needs the support of the majority of her MPs. Lose it, and the party will have to pick a new prime minister. Win it, there’s still no guarantee she can get the Brexit deal through parliament when it votes in mid-December.
Right now, the maths for May is decidedly unfavourable.
Currently, there are 315 Conservative MPs in the House of Commons, and May has been forced to rely on 10 MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to govern. She needs a majority of 320 to get any legislation through the house, and the DUP have been backing the government in a “confidence and supply arrangement”.
The DUP, however, is determined the that British-governed province of Northern Ireland must be treated the same as England, Scotland or Wales. The Brexit deal negotiated by May and Brussels, however, will mean that the province will have separate rules — angering the DUP, who now say they can’t back the Brexit deal in parliament.
Within her own party, there are at least 40 — and possibly as many as 80 MPs — who are likely to vote against the Brexit deal as it passes through the Commons. So where can she get the votes to make up that majority?
Labour, the main Opposition party led by Jeremy Corbyn, holds 257 MPs. Those are almost evenly split between Remainers and Brexiteers, so May is hoping that some will break party ranks, supporting the Brexit vote in parliament.
Prospect of general election
But May has been weakened by the Brexit negotiations, the resignations of seven cabinet ministers and by a strongly pro-Brexit wing led by Rees-Mogg. While May might be able to appeal to those Labour MPs to support the Brexit vote, citing the interests of national unity, it’s a gamble — particularly if Labour sees the potential to topple the Conservatives and trigger a general election.
There are 35 MPs in parliament from the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said they will be opposing the Brexit vote. She also says that the SNP will now be looking at a second independence referendum for Scotland, where the majority of voters backed staying in the EU in the Brexit referendum in June 2016.
There are 12 Liberal-Democrat MPs and their party leader Vince Cable has said they will oppose the vote. The party favours a second referendum on Brexit.
So what happens if May loses the Commons vote on the Brexit deal?
She may decide to go back to Brussels and attempt to renegotiate the agreement. The EU will be unlikely to do so, having dealt with the issue for the past 16 months where progress has been beset by British domestic politics and May’s leadership.
May could also ask the EU to allow for more time, moving back that March 29 deadline. But that would be an embarrassing climb-down for May, given that it was she who provided that date in the first place. Again, Brussels will likely be in an unaccommodating mood.
May could also call a snap general election. Given the infighting within her party ranks, that’s not a prospect she — or the Conservatives — would relish.
She might also be tempted to call a second referendum, asking Britons to approve the Brexit deal. That too would be fraught with danger, and would an embarrassment to her personally, given that she has opposed this option consistently.
And there is also the option for her to resign, leaving the Conservatives to sort out the mess. That’s unlikely, as May has said she is determined to oversee the Brexit divorce — for better or worse.