Is the UK lost in the Brexit maze?

In her April 2016, speech on Brexit, conservative Tory leader and UK Prime Minister Theresa May affirmed: “…the question the country has to answer on 23rd June – whether to Leave or Remain – is about how we maximize Britain’s security, prosperity and influence in the world, and how we maximize our sovereignty: that is, the control we have over our own affairs in future.”

Looking back at 2016, the UK seemed convinced and prepared on the path towards partition from the EU. Unfortunately, almost 3 years on, British politics seem to have failed to find an agreement that serves the country and its citizens. Nevertheless, Theresa May has kept working in order to find a deal that could satisfy all the parts, but the strategic political opposition she has suffered is now harming the whole nation.

May’s proposal has been strongly rejected by both the Commons and the Lords, opening a scenario where the obstruction from her own Tory MPs could actually end up giving the floor to the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Most prominently, on the 25th of February, Corbyn  specified that his party would back a second referendum. That decision saw the Labour party split: despite evidence for the need of a fresh referendum poll (also in order to save the people from a “forced Tory Brexit”), more than 25 MPs are expected to vote against a referendum do-over.

Corbyn’s announcement certainly aims at throwing shades at the Tories’ management of the deal, but this could also represent a lifebelt for citizens and for everyone who’s appealing to the “people’s vote” — that is, seeking confirmation of any decision through a final popular vote — in order to preserve the integrity of such important decisions in a democratic system. Corbyn affirmed that with Theresa May having so little time remaining, his party will not accept that she comes out with a no-deal proposal.

In the midst of many announcements, the call made by Theresa May for the MPs to “get the deal done” passed unnoticed. On 12th March 2019, the MPs crushed May’s efforts to escape from the no- deal scenario, voting it down by a majority of 149.

Given the context, MPs reunited the next day for discussion on a no-deal Brexit possibility and, as stressed by Theresa May, they will be free to vote on the matter. The meeting unfortunately spurred more confusion: everyone was expecting to have a free vote on the government’s motion on a Brexit approach, but because of Yvette Cooper’s amendment, that option disappeared. Cooper, a Labour party MP, decided to press an amendment that ruled out no-deal because Theresa May “has refused to consult or build consensus” and “refused to allow votes on other Brexit options”. Much criticism has been raised on the conduct of the meeting in the House of Commons, described as chaotic and messy. At the end, the chances of seeing a no-deal Brexit agreement are now off the table.

On the 14th of March,  the MPs, after having rejected May’s deal twice, voted in favor of an extension, but also rejected a second referendum. The decision is controversial, criticized for being vague and for launching UK’s Brexit in a non-defined limbo, without fixed dates and deadlines.

At the moment, there are two possible scenarios:

  • If the deal can be reached in one week, May will require only a short extension, finalized by the 30th of June, to the Euro Summit of the 21st and 22nd of March, which will have to be agreed to by all 27 members. If the European members don’t agree on the short extension, Brexit will maintain its original deadline.
  • If May asks for a long extension, a European parliamentary vote will be held on the 23rd of May, where the UK will be included in the vote.  If the parliament approves of the extension proposal, there are doubts about the new deadline for Brexit.

European Council President Donald Tusk affirmed that he will ask EU leaders to back a long extension. However, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit Coordinator, opposes a deadline extension without any clarification on the path that the House of Commons is willing to take.

The avoidance of a hard Brexit sparks joy not only in the modern cities of London, Manchester and Birmingham, but also on both Irish borders. Northern Ireland is part of the UK, while Ireland is a member of the European Union. The “Irish backstop” already became a major Internet search word at the end of 2018, and represents the possibility of putting a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Such a border would eliminate many of the hard-fought advances achieved in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 between the British and Irish governments (and most of the political parties).

At the moment, a hard border creates legal risk. But the DUP and Geoffry Cox, the attorney general, are evaluating article 62 of the Vienna Convention to evaluate whether or not the UK has a chance to exit from the backstop.

The whole uncertain scenario turns out to be an opportune moment for neighboring countries, especially if they have an attractive fiscal system like the Netherlands. The Dutch tax system is one of the most competitive in the European Union. Major improvements recently in the capital of Amsterdam have been able to attract more than 150 foreign companies last year. The city, as the rest of the country, reacted proactively when Brexit was still being set up. The high standard of life in the Netherlands, the common usage of the English language, the proximity to the United Kingdom, and the aforementioned fiscal benefits are attracting companies. Even more important, they are attracting financial capital.

Despite its longevity and history, the Euromarket born in the 1950s in the City of London is set to end as the most important financial trading center of Europe, with the city of Amsterdam positioning itself to take over — especially in the case of a hard Brexit scenario.

At the moment, Brexit has become a tricky maze for MPs, and especially for Theresa May.  In the coming days, we will see which Brexit scenario is more likely, along with the associated deadline — and the consequent ramifications.

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