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The Brexit Shambles Rambles On

This week was meant to be the denouement of the UK’s divorce from the EU, as the House of Commons was due to vote on the final EU divorce deal Theresa May had hammered out with EU leaders.

May however postponed the vote the day before it was due to be held, saying that “if we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow the deal would be rejected by a significant margin”.

Allegedly May wanted more time to return to Brussels to plead with EU leaders for concessions that would sweeten her deal, even if only cosmetically.

More than 100 of her own backbenchers indicated they would not support May’s deal, as had her Northern Irish DUP allies, and with Labour also opposed, she would have lost this vote by a large margin.

May’s trip to Brussels with be a waste of time.  The eurocrats have been unyielding in their dealings with the UK on Brexit, and sure enough, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, tweeted this week that the EU “will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop”.

The “backstop” refers to the open border between the north and the south of Ireland that is the cornerstone of the Good Friday peace agreement. If the border remains open after the divorce, there will be a part of the UK (Northern Ireland) that will have the same border with an EU country (Ireland) that all EU members have with each other.

So Northern Ireland will in effect remain aligned with the EU, at least where borders are concerned, while the rest of the UK goes its merry way on whatever post-Brexit road, or sinkhole, that happens to open up.

May pointed out in radio interview that the UK has 3 options: her Brexit deal (which stands no chance of being adopted), a Brexit with no deal (which will be an economic catastrophe for the UK), or Remain.

Remain is the least economically ruinous of these options, but espousing it will mean rejecting outright the outcome of the Brexit referendum.

May‘s kicking the can down the road on the Brexit vote is intended simply to buy herself more time, in the forlorn hope that, who knows, something might show up which will save her skin.

Meanwhile May faces a fight for her political survival, which she would almost certainly lose if she lost the vote on her deal.

Several Tories have entered the fray in anticipation of a possible contest to replace her.

The former foreign secretary and mayor of London Boris “BoJo” Johnson, a profoundly unserious and narcissistic personality who projects himself as the UK equivalent of Trump, has always made his ambition clear.

The former work and pensions minister Esther McVey, one of the Tories most intent on dismantling the welfare state (earning this former television meteorologist the soubriquet Esther McVile), has not ruled out her own leadership bid.

The former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab (who was eaten for breakfast by the craftly and more intelligent eurocrats during his brief tenure of that office), and the current environment minister Michael Gove (whose only principle is that of a naked self-interest) have also not ruled out leadership bids.

In the unlikely event that scores of MPs from across the political spectrum swing behind the embattled prime minister in a sudden change of mind, May will have to introduce the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill to the Commons after its Christmas recess that begins on December 20th, in January at the earliest.  Having a vote on this Bill in the next week or so will be the political equivalent of hara-kiri.

Alas for May, the chance of her deal being approved with the simple majority of 320 of the 639 MPs eligible to vote is highly unlikely, either in January or whenever—March 29th 2019 being the official date for Brexit to be enacted.

Even if she manages to wring a few cosmetic changes from Brussels, May’s deal will face a slew of amendments.

Labour has already tabled an amendment specifying how its MPs will “pursue every option” preventing a Brexit premised on May’s deal or a “crashing-out” no-deal Brexit.

So, of the 3 alternatives facing the UK– May’s deal (however tweaked), “crashing-out”, or Remain– only the latter seems, by the process of elimination, to be on the table for Labour.

May could of course win the vote on her deal—her card here would involve saying to parliament that it’s her deal or else a no-deal Brexit or Remain, thereby scaring those opposed at all costs to Remain, and those with trepidations about a “crashing-out” Brexit, to hold their noses and line-up behind her.

If May is defeated in the vote on her deal, much would depend on the margin of her defeat.

May herself has said she will stay on as prime minister regardless of the result of this vote.

But a defeat by more than 150 votes or so, signaling a rebellion by dozens of her own MPs, could draw the curtains on May’s premiership.

May however still has options.

May has ruled it out, but Labour has backed the idea of a second referendum, as long as it does not get a general election.

A raft of UK polls show that those in favour of Remain now have a 10% lead, so Remain is an option in the event of a second referendum.  Lending weight to this outcome, the European Court of Justice has just ruled that the UK could abandon Brexit without needing the approval of the 27 other EU states.

Another option for May is calling a general election, in the hope that voters will somehow back her plan. The pitfall here is that voters sick and tired of the Brexit shambles will give May and her party the boot at the polls.

In principle Labour could seek to force an election by winning a “no confidence” vote against May and the Tories in parliament. She, or some other Tory, would then have to form a government that could prevail in a second vote of no confidence. Otherwise a general election would have to be called.

Labour has shown no willingness to go for this no-confidence vote, knowing that May and her allies, faced with the prospect of being thrown-out in the election that would follow, will circle the wagons around her so they and her can remain in office.

Why be in politics if the name of your game is being willing to risk a no confidence vote that could cost you the ensuing election? Duh– politicians are in the business of getting elected!

May is a stinker par excellence, but the possibility of the Tories losing an election will curb opponents within her own party regardless of their presumed principles apropos Brexit (or anything else for that matter).

So, all bets are off once March 29, 2019, approaches and the UK has to come to some kind of decision on whatever Brexit deal is on the table.

The eurocrats have expressed a willingness to extend this deadline, but cynics that they are, they know this will only give the UK more time to dig itself into an even deeper hole.

The eurocrats have one aim above all: make Brexit so hellish that no other EU member will be tempted to emulate the UK’s example.

On this, the eurocrats have had their day, right from the beginning.

More articles by:

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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