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Difficult Brexit process continues to split society

23:03 | 31.01.2019 | Analytic


31 January 2019. PenzaNews. The House of Commons of the United Kingdom declared its opposition to leaving the European Union without a deal with Brussels. The corresponding amendment was adopted to the draft agreement on the conditions for Brexit on January 29.

Difficult Brexit process continues to split society

Photo: Jessica Taylor, Flickr.com/uk_parliament

Parliamentarians also voted by 321 to 298 against an extension of Article 50 from March 29 until the end of the year.

At the same time, according to Sky News channel, the no-deal amendment does not specify measures that should be taken and is formulated only in general terms.

Moreover, the MPs’ decision is nonbinding for the British parliament. Prime Minister Theresa May stated that the deputies’ vote would not necessarily be the basis for new negotiations with the EU.

According to observers, the situation around Brexit continues to be complex and unpredictable. Thus, Michael Emerson, associate senior research fellow at Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), former Ambassador of the EU to Russia, said that extreme tension is felt in the British parliament, in the business community and the public at large.

“Different groups of MPs are trying to push towards alternative solutions to the agreement made by Mrs May with the EU. But they are divided within and between political parties,” he told PenzaNews.

“Theresa May’s position is itself a compromise between so-called hard and soft Brexits: hard means leaving with little continued reliance on EU standards and regulations, soft means retaining membership of the Single market and the Customs union. In addition to these three positions, there are two further outlying positions, the 'no deal' camp which wants a complete break with the EU, versus those who advocate second referendum which might reverse the whole process, and leave the UK as now fully as member state,” Michael Emerson explained.

In his opinion, the state of uncertainty and absence of an obvious convergence on one of these scenarios do not allow to make any predictions concerning the conditions for Brexit.

“As regards the 'no deal' proposition, this is so obviously very damaging […]. As the 29 March date approaches with no resolution in sight there is also a growing view that this date should be pushed back, but the EU will only agree to this if the UK can show that it is heading towards a definitive position,” the analyst said.

In turn, Kent Matthews, Professor of Banking and Finance at Cardiff Business School, stressed that “the country is almost evenly divided.”

“Die-had Brexiteers see the May deal as a betrayal of Brexit as it keeps the UK so close to the EU it begs the question why we are leaving? Whereas the Remainers want to keep us as close to the EU so that at some future referendum the cost of re-entry would be minimal. The attitude of resignation by some is that they see the possibility of some sort of soft-Brexit deal will be thrashed out by the government and the EU and we will leave on March 29 but with a deal that will mean there will be no discernible difference compared with the status quo,” the expert explained.

According to him, another referendum on Brexit seems a low probability because politicians from both sides recognise that this will destroy the trust of the electorate.

“Both parties will lose voters to more extreme parties that will emerge and challenge the effectively two-party system that has been the bedrock of British politics for centuries,” Kent Matthews said.

Analyzing potential Brexit conditions, he said that even in case of hard Brexit the parties will have to reach certain agreements.

“Some sort of deal will be agreed before March 29. I think we will leave on March 29 based on a May-deal. The Brexiteers will feel betrayed and so will the Remainers who feel they should have a second referendum, but politicians will be able to contest the 2021 elections on the EU issue, whether to return or break away even further. This may end up with a realignment of parties where the centre right and centre left join up with the Liberal Democrats to campaign for the centre. So that what both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party fear that might happen, could happen. There may be more stability in coalition politics,” the analyst added.

Meanwhile, Erik Jones, Professor of European Studies and International Political Economy, Director of European and Eurasian Studies at School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, said that “the 29th of March does not have to be a hard stop and the Article 50 process can be extended to early July.”

“Nevertheless, there is a danger that the UK will end its membership with the EU without a comprehensive withdrawal agreement. It will not leave with ‘no deal’; instead, it will leave with many small agreements to cover critical sectors that operate on a bilateral and multilateral basis. That ad hoc arrangement will be very messy and complicated. It will also be very cumbersome for European citizens and business, no matter what passport they hold or country they come from,” Erik Jones said.

In his opinion, the atmosphere in the UK is fraught insofar as there are many actors with strong views and there is not much ground for consensus.

“There are the divisions on precise issues like […] trade controls around Northern Ireland. You can also see divisions on much larger issues like whether the UK should really leave the EU, whether it should try to remain as close as it can while regaining control over migration, or whether it should retain its EU membership by renouncing the declaration of the intention to withdraw,” the analyst explained.

According to him, the new plans by Prime Minister Theresa May do not address either the precise divisions or the larger ambitions in anything like a consensual manner.

“Hence, her goal is to eliminate one of the three options and so force a majority to coalesce on the more acceptable of the two choices that remain,” the expert stressed.

Meanwhile, in his opinion, another referendum on Brexit is a difficult prospect for political, technical, and legal reasons.

“Politically, it is hard because neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn wants a second referendum. Technically it is hard because there is not enough time to prepare the campaigns and because the threshold for decision-making would probably have to stay at 50% which makes the outcome unstable. […] Legally it is hard because any extension of the Article 50 period must end before the new European parliament it seated in July, otherwise the UK will have a legal requirement to participate in the elections to the European Parliament that are scheduled for the end of May,” Erik Jones explained.

In turn, European politics expert Simon Usherwood, University of Surrey, noted that the main feeling in the UK right now is one of confusion.

“None of the options available has the support of a majority of people and all contain clear costs, both economic and political. With an absence of anyone in a strong enough position to force things forward, the political system has become blocked,” Simon Usherwood said.

“Another referendum on Brexit remains very unlikely, since neither May nor Corbyn would clearly benefit from it: May would be relying on Labour to help her out, while Corbyn would find himself having to campaign on an issue that he doesn’t consider that central to his political project,” the analyst added.

He also stressed that the conditions for Brexit are determined not only by the United Kingdom, but also by the EU.

“If the UK wants to leave, but without the possibility of no-deal, then it has to agree a deal and the package on the table is the only one that the EU is prepared to consider right now, which is the problem that has caused the current situation,” the expert explained.

Meanwhile, Professor John Fender, Department of Economics, University of Birmingham, characterised the atmosphere in the UK as “febrile.”

“Given that Theresa May’s deal was emphatically rejected by parliament, and there's no other deal available, it is difficult to see how a no-deal Brexit could be avoided on 29th March. The only way would be if the deadline to be extended. There is a fair chance that this could happen,” the expert said.

“I have no idea whether there'll be another referendum. But if not, it's not at all clear how the current impasse will be resolved. I really don't have clue what the final outcome is going to be, and I'm not sure anyone else does either,” John Fender added.

Pippa Catterall, Professor of History and Policy in the School of Humanities at the University of Westminster, pointed out that Prime Minister “does not seem to have any new plans as such.”

“Indeed, there is not time to negotiate any, nor is there any real prospect of tweaking her existing ones. The situation is therefore one of a game of ‘chicken’, in which the PM essentially refuses to budge and tries to persuade those of her parliamentary supporters who voted so overwhelmingly against her last week not to do so again, while they in turn try to get her to shift position towards one of the options they favour,” the analyst said.

According to her, there is not overwhelming support in Parliament for any alternative plan.

“So, Theresa May is very unlikely to shift her position even if, as seems likely, she is heavily defeated again next week,” Pippa Catterall stressed.

Commenting on the likelihood of a second referendum, the expert said that “given the parliamentary situation it is tempting to put this mess back to the people who created it in the first place, the electorate.”

“However, the route to a ‘People’s Vote’ is difficult and will only happen through a cross-Party vote to prevent no deal. This would require Labour to essentially unite behind this option,” the expert said.

At the same time, in her opinion, a no deal Brexit is more likely to lead to a similar surge in violence than a People’s Vote.

“Apart from the violent far Right minority the mood of the country seems to be across a spectrum from impatience among those who support Brexit but don’t seem to appreciate its complexities, through a view that somehow we will ‘muddle through’, to resignation, to hostility to Brexit in all its forms and a determination to reverse the outcome. This process has divided Britain for decades to come,” the analyst concluded.

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