Brits Blink At Hard Brexit

With just over 30 days before Brexit becomes final one way or another, the UK’s political leadership finally blinked at the real possibility of a hard Brexit. Theresa May’s over two year long con, pretending to be able to craft a reasonable and acceptable plan for exiting the EU, has come to an ignominious but predictable end. She admitted defeat today by offering Parliament the additional option of voting for a short delay in Brexit as opposed to choosing between her insufficient plan and a hard Brexit.

Despite Theresa May’s continual assurances, she could never overcome the insurmountable obstacles that were plain as day from the moment the Brexit vote ended. From the beginning, the EU held all the cards in the negotiations and was determined to drive a hard bargain in order to deter other members from opting for the same path as Britain. In addition, the Northern Ireland border issue as well as the ultimate trading relationship between the UK and the EU proved intractable as expected.

May’s tactics, such as they were, were to drag the negotiations out long enough so that the country would have to choose between whatever plan she could come up with and a hard Brexit, with the obvious hope that the country and Parliament would accept her deal in order to avoid the chaos of a no-deal exit. That strategy also precluded the government from actually preparing for the possibility of a hard Brexit, leading to utterly absurd admissions from the government over the last few months as that possibility became more realistic, including admitting the country would run short of food and medicines and that it did not have the proper packaging as a non-EU country to export to the EU. In fact, her plan, when finally revealed, was to simply go ahead in all the areas where she had reached agreement with the EU while buying more time to resolve the outstanding issues that were probably never going to be resolved.

Both May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are under pressure from within their own parties to take the no-deal option off the table or at least offer the option of delaying the March 29 deadline for exit. May’s decision to allow the option of a short postponement for the date for exit is an admission that her plan is likely to go down to defeat in Parliament once again. May is still leaving the no-deal possibility out there and just offering to extend the deadline date for that option for a few months.

Corbyn, under pressure because of defections from his own party to the so-called Independent Group because of his lack of resistance to Brexit, announced that he would both support a “public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit” and “do everything in our power to prevent No Deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May’s overwhelmingly rejected deal”. Corbyn’s promise of a public vote is probably not going to result in a second referendum, which could not at present get approved by Parliament, but it is a declaration that that should be an option if May’s deal is rejected. His statement also indicates support of the decision to delay the hard Brexit deadline.

It is hard to see where this all ends. May’s offer of delayed deadline will probably only be for a few months and will require the approval of the EU. While that is likely to be granted, it is unclear if the EU is willing to provide a further extended extension but also clear that they will not be providing any more concessions in subsequent negotiations. In addition, the delay merely postpones the decision that currently confronts Parliament to choose between May’s insufficient plan which will surely be rejected and a hard Brexit. They will all be right back in the same crisis they are today in just a few months time. At present, neither party wants a second referendum as the Brexit issue badly fractures both parties. On the other hand, businesses are fed up with the uncertainty that no decision has created. Thanks, David Cameron!

Most outsiders believe the UK should go the Fred and Ginger route and “let’s call the whole thing off” and the public increasingly seems to believe that leaving the EU is a mistake. And every new defeat of May’s Withdrawal Plan and every additional delay seemingly adds to the belief that Brexit will never happen. It’s just that neither Labour nor the Tories can figure out how to get there without splitting their party in two.

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Originally published at thesoundings.com on February 27, 2019.

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