The clock is ticking down. In less than three weeks, Britain will leave the European Union and so far, the outlook is not good. If anything, to an outside observer, the deeply divided opinions and the growing deadlock within Parliament shows just how badly Brexit is going.
Tuesday will see Theresa May put forward her deal with the EU to Parliament, a deal that is likely to be voted down. Nothing is certain, but despite much bluster and hopeful signs, the deal that Theresa May is putting to Parliament (her so-called Plan B) is almost exactly the same as her original deal. Despite agreeing to get new assurances from the EU, Theresa May has once again come back empty-handed.
While it is still possible that the deal might squeak through Parliament, it still seems unlikely. Few, if any, of the new assurances Theresa May promised have emerged. The EU, for all its own faults, has always been firm and clear: This is the best deal they can give. This far, no further. It’s this or nothing.
For both sides of the debate, the deal is the worst of both worlds. Pro-Brexit supporters hate the special agreement with Northern Ireland (the backstop) which they claim will keep Britain in the EU. Pro Remain supporters argue that the deal will still damage the economy and that a looser agreement, one the keeps Britain in the EU’s single market, would be less disruptive.
Many agree that Theresa May’s deal is bad, but question is not will the deal be defeated, but what happens next?
If Theresa May’s deal is defeated, as seems likely, the way forward is less certain. The most likely way forward is a request to extend the negotiations. This is something the EU is willing to consider yet even here, there is uncertainty. Many in Britain want a short extension -three to nine months – while the EU will only consider anything less than a year’s extension as unfeasible.
With or without the extension, Parliament has three choices: no-deal, a soft Brexit or no-Brexit. Neither option is particularly palpable.
No-deal Brexit, once considered as a serious option by hardcore Brexiteers, would be disastrous on both sides of the Channel. In one stroke, businesses would suffer major losses, unemployment would soar and a serious economic disruption, up to and including a second recession, would be unavoidable. The EU, while suffering an economic blow, might recover. Britain would not be so lucky. There is no majority for a no-deal Brexit, but if there is no alternative, no majority for any other option, it might be that Britain has to make that choice regardless of its true desires.
A soft Brexit, spearheaded by the left-wing Labour Party, has the best chance of passing through Parliament, but it would be a close thing. Every option that falls short of full membership requires Britain to stomach a serious compromise, whether it’s having to accept EU regulations without any say in whether they want it or entering the Schengen Agreement, promising free unrestricted movement to all EU citizens. Both are incredibly hard for even pro-Remain supporters to swallow.
No Brexit would mean a second referendum, an idea that has been gaining support since the referendum result in 2016. Its chances of happening are not as remote as they were a year ago, but it is fraught with uncertainty. While many would argue that supporters on both sides have changed their mind, a second referendum is seen as divisive. After all, the people have already had their say. Wouldn’t a second referendum undermine the foundations of democracy? Is this just an attempt by elites and the Establishment to get the result they want i.e. No Brexit
Beyond March 29th when Britain leaves the EU, the future is uncertain. Powerful forces inside and outside of Britain seek to take advantage of the chaos. Scotland considers independence while Ireland braces for a possible return to violence. The EU loses a key trade partner and a vital source of EU funding while the USA, China, India amongst others hope to get the best deals they can from a weakened and powerless Britain.
Britain stands on the edge of a Brexit cliff of its own creation, eager to jump and yet hesitant to actually do so. Theresa May has often been described as kicking the Brexit can down the road, but the road is running out. Sooner or later, she will have to make a decision or let Parliament do so, whether it happens next Tuesday or later in the month.
That decision, whatever it ends up being, will decide the fate of Britain and will, no doubt, tear it apart.