Brexit crisis deepens

| Updated on January 18, 2019 Published on January 17, 2019

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement following winning a confidence vote, after Parliament rejected her Brexit deal, outside 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, January 16, 2019.   -  REUTERS

Theresa May is running out of time to put together an acceptable exit plan

All options are back on the table in the wake of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s defeat in the House of Commons when MPs shot down her much-derided Brexit bill by a gigantic margin. May has now been given an incredibly short deadline and has to present a new plan for leaving the European Union (EU) by Monday. This appears almost impossible because the pro-Brexit lobby in May’s Conservative Party refuses to accept any form of compromise on its vision of a United Kingdom that’s fully divorced from the EU. They’ve threatened to split the ruling Conservative Party rather than settle for anything less. The extreme Brexiteers have taken a maximalist position and argue that Britain should, if necessary, do a ‘no-deal’ Brexit and crash out of the EU without an agreement, even if it causes enormous dislocation in the short run. Britain is now 71 days from the Brexit deadline of March 31 and it appears almost impossible that the government and the EU can work out the broad contours of a deal, let alone sew up the nitty-gritty details. It’s a measure of how weak May has become that narrowly winning a no-confidence motion on Wednesday was seen as a boost to her position. This came in the wake of losing the Brexit bill vote by a colossal 230 votes, which was a dubious new record in British parliamentary history.

A handful of Brexit options are now being bandied about. Some moderate Conservatives and opposition Labour MPs believe that a customs union with the EU would limit the damage to trade relations and others say the ‘Norway option’ would cause the least disruption. Norway’s a member of the European Free Trade Association and its trade with the EU is defined by clearly accepted rules. But this option mandates free movement of people which is anathema to the Brexiteers. There’s also the option of holding a second referendum or a ‘People’s Vote’. The argument for a People’s Vote is that the British public should be allowed another vote now they know what the rough contours of any agreement will be.

The knottiest sticking point of the Brexit deal is Northern Ireland. Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which saw the Irish Republican Army lay down its arms, there can be no border controls between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, which is a part of the UK. But once the UK leaves the EU border controls become essential. To get around this May’s agreement with the EU lays down that Northern Ireland will be subject to EU regulations till a further deal is worked out. May has been struggling unsuccessfully to break the Brexit deadlock for over two years and the odds are against her coming up with a solution in the next few days, especially since Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refuses to hold talks till the ‘no deal’ option is off the table. Which means the only way forward has to be to play for time and extend the Brexit deadline.

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Published on January 17, 2019
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