Special Report

A self-goal by Britain

A self-goal by Britain

One British prime minister lost his job to Brexit, another’s job appeared to be on the line at the weekend, though Theresa May could still survive, bruised and mauled. David Cameron was under no particular compulsion to poll the Brits over the country’s membership of the European Union. But an old-style politician that he was, he kept the electoral promise and lost by a narrow margin, 52 : 48 in favour of leavers. Morally wounded, he resigned. That was in June 2016. Theresa May pipped other contenders to Cameron’s post. A few months ago, in a miscalculated move she went for an early election and found the Tories’ numbers further reduced. Yet, she continued with the help of smaller groups. However, all through her tenure, the only thing that has been on the agenda of the UK is Brexit. How to leave the EU without surrendering too much to Brussels and without paying too much in compensation. It has not been easy. Cannot be when the common market bonds go back to the early 70s. Aside from the currency union, Britain has been a bona fide member

of the EU, following Brussels on common market, immigration, free movement of goods and services, etc. However, after a long-simmering movement for what they called ‘reclaim our sovereignty’, Cameron called  for a referendum. He lost his job. Now, May is hard put to retain it. At the weekend, it appeared that the turmoil in her own party might leave her wounded far more than a newly-energised Labour Party under doctrinaire socialist, Jeremy Corbyn, can ever expect to inflict. A rebellion brews within her own Cabinet and backbenchers. Five members of the government have resigned, including the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, the man in-charge of preparing the blueprint for divorce from the EU. A parallel move is on to oust her from the Tory leadership, 48 MPs are required to trigger a fresh confidence vote. It is unlikely that she would fail the majority test in the ruling party. Her real challenge comes from getting the 585-page document laying down the terms of departure from the EU through the House of Commons. Divisions within her own party and in the Labour Opposition make it hazardous to speculate the outcome. Even those opposing the current Brexit plan have no clue  what  better can  replace it. As May insists, either it is Brexit or no-deal. She most dourly stood her ground for seven hours in the Commons last week, as MPs from all sides asked piercing questions, picking holes in her plan and accused her of surrendering to Brussels. The draft document, to be approved by the 27 members-states of the EU on November  25 once the Commons say yes, is to be  enforced on March 29th next year.

But the main sticking point is a hard Northern Ireland border with the EU. Those opposed to her plan are against the soft ‘backstop’, arguing that EU rules and regulations on products and services entering the UK through the Northern Ireland border would virtually defeat the objective behind Brexit. A hard border however would reignite the Irish question and cause Brussels to put its back up. The back-up is in effect a half-way house between leaving and staying within the EU.

Until a better plan emerges during the transition period which is scheduled to end in December 2020, the ‘best plan under the circumstances’ which May offers will remain in place, that is, in case it passes the tumultuous events expected in the Commons next week. In the thrust on a soft border, another controversial part of the exit plan seems to have attracted little notice. Britain will commit to pay the EU $50 billion as part of the withdrawal agreement. Of course, even if May gets her way in Parliament, the costs of leaving the EU for Britain will be quite steep. Already, the British currency is under stress, banking shares have lost value, businesses are in a state of uncertainty. In a globalised and globalising world, the

narrow nationalist fervour, ignited by the likes of Trump, is bound to prove destabilising. Growing economic disparities and the unhindered influx of workers from the poorer parts of the EU had fuelled the Brexit fury. The relatively young and well-to-do  Britons, especially Londoners, were vehemently opposed  to leaving. The UK was divided almost evenly, but it is unlikely that either side will have reason to feel satisfied with a half-way solution as it emerged after two years of tortuous negotiations between Brussels and London. More than the EU, the UK could be staring at economic slowdown at home and a loss of diplomatic influence abroad. Now, it will woo individual countries, including India and Japan, for free-market agreements.

written by Editorial FPJ.


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