A Clear Path Through the Brexit Fog?
I’m sorry everyone, but this week it really is unavoidable, I’m going to have to mention the B-word. The fog of Brexit is obscuring all other news but it’s best to acknowledge it. Turns out that sitting with your eyes closed, wishing very, very hard for it to go away doesn’t work – as Theresa May has discovered. Set up for this coming week are three important votes that will decide the future of the UK’s position in relation to our EU neighbours, so here’s what to expect…
Illustration by Rhiannon Powell
On the 12th there will be another ‘meaningful’ vote in the Commons on May’s deal. I know there have been meaningful votes before on the deal, but they meant nothing, this one, this time, is the one. For sure…maybe. The idea was that after the monumental defeat the deal suffered in its first vote, May would go back to the EU and renegotiate some changes to keep Parliament happy (like the bunch of fussy toddlers they are) and then allow them to vote on the amended deal. Well surprise surprise, after months of the EU telling her the deal was final and non-negotiable, she found that the EU was reluctant to re-negotiate the deal. At the time of writing, she has not managed to change her deal a jot, so it’s looking likely the deal she’ll be putting to Parliament on the 12th will be exactly the same one they so violently rejected a couple of weeks ago. Let’s all remember that Albert Einstein defined madness as repeating the same action over and over, and yet imagining the outcome will differ.
So once Parliament vote that down, as they inevitably will and probably by an even greater margin than last time, phase two of the plan is activated. On the 13th there will be a vote on a no-deal Brexit which, if it passes, means the UK leaves on the 29th of March with no deal – a proposition that strikes fear into the hearts of many, especially businesses that need to import and export to and from the EU, and EU and UK nationals living in each other’s territories. Others see no-deal as an opportunity for the UK to forge a new path in the world, independent of any deals with the EU. Those people are lunatics. I try to be as objective as I can with the column (besides the obvious vendettas) but the prospect of a no-deal Brexit is horrifying. According to many reports and experts from all sectors, a no-deal Brexit would plunge Britain into a financial crisis, there would be food and medicine shortages, and the army has been preparing to keep the peace in this scenario. Regardless of whether you’re a Leaver or Remainer, it must be agreed that a vision of a post-no-deal Brexit Britain is not one of sunny upland and Blitz spirit but rather more post-apocalyptic. Less PG Wodehouse and more JG Ballard.
If the Commons vote against a no-deal (and we better pray they do), then there will be a third vote. Yes, three, oh Mrs May you are spoiling us! This will be held on the 14th and decide whether the UK should request an extension to Article 50 from the EU. When it was triggered in 2017, Article 50 gave us two years to negotiate an exit and that has clearly gone just swimmingly, so if Parliament decides we do need a deal then we’re going to need more time. If this passes then May has to go Oliver Twist style to the EU and ask if ‘please Sir, can we have some more?’ If it fails to pass, then we revert to no-deal and leave on the 29th. Scary stuff. There is some debate on how long an extension we could get, May would ideally like just a few months, until the end of June, but it is totally possible that the EU will say it’s two more years or nothing. This would benefit the EU as they believe that if the UK was eventually to leave five years after the referendum (one year before Article 50 was triggered, then the two years, and then the two year extension) that the vote will have lost some of its power over time and there’d have to be another – a vote they think would go the other way. If this was the case, then it would be the greatest waste of time since I spent fifteen minutes trying to find a suitable ending to this metaphor.
So, in summary, we have an important week ahead, though that has been said many times throughout this process. Hopefully by the next time I write the Brexit fog will have cleared, and we will be able to see a path ahead, even if it is treacherous, long, and winding.
Mind how you go.