Rethinking Europe

Brexitology: Dog Chases Tail, Again

Theresa May’s authority is so eroded that her latest attempt to finally resolve Brexit will likely fail.

Credit: Visit Britain www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • Theresa May’s authority is so eroded that her latest attempt to finally resolve Brexit will likely fail.
  • May’s proposal will probably extend the infighting in parliament that has led to the Brexit impasse in the first place.
  • Even if May wins over some Labour MPs who want a second referendum, she will lose Conservatives who fear that a second vote could reverse Brexit.

In an effort to break the Brexit impasse, UK Prime Minister Theresa May today announced a series of changes to the Brexit bill. She is hoping against the odds that she can win over enough MPs to finally get a majority in parliament for the Withdrawal Agreement.

The major changes are:

1. Parliament will get to vote on whether to hold a second referendum – as long as it passes the Brexit Bill first; and

2. Parliament will get a say on what kind of post-Brexit customs arrangement the UK should seek with the EU.

May wants MPs to choose between the free-trade arrangement envisioned in her original deal (“delivering the benefits of a customs union”) or a temporary customs union with the EU – subject to change by a future government.

Key concessions

In addition, May announced several concessions:

• For Labour on worker’s rights and environmental standards;

• for the DUP, a promise to keep the mainland UK aligned with Northern Ireland in case the so-called ‘Irish backstop’ came into force; and

• for the Brexiteers in her party — plans to commit the government to working on arrangements to avoid the need for a hard border in Northern Ireland by 2020.

May said that the bill will be published in the next few days. But as the House of Commons will be in recess from 24 May until 4 June, debating and voting will probably take place in early-mid June.

Too little, too late

On the face of it, she has announced major changes to her approach to Brexit. Months ago, such an attempt to secure support from the Labour Party for the Withdrawal Agreement could have done the trick.

But by now, her authority is so eroded that her latest attempt to finally resolve Brexit will likely fail.

Instead, her proposal will probably extend the infighting in parliament that has led to the Brexit impasse in the first place. The House of Commons has long been divided about whether the UK should remain in the Customs Union while past votes to hold a second referendum have fallen short of a majority.

Even if May wins over some Labour MPs who want to push for a second referendum, she will lose Conservatives who fear that a second vote could reverse Brexit.

In an effort to scare her own MPs into backing the Brexit bill she said that, as parliament was against a hard Brexit, the alternatives were a second referendum or a snap election.

As MPs expect that May will soon resign the threat is barely credible.

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About Kallum Pickering

Kallum Pickering is Senior Economist at Berenberg Bank in London.

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