So Now What?

Brexit has been dominating our airwaves for what feels like eternity. Just as it feels as though we’re starting to get to grips with one (usually catastrophic) event, another rears its ugly head to bamboozle us even more.

Over the last seven days alone, we have seen Theresa May’s hard-fought deal for exiting the EU be voted down in the House of Commons by the biggest ever margin; Jeremy Corbyn call and then lose a Motion of No Confidence; the President of the European Council insinuate that Britain might not leave the EU; and the spectre of a Second Vote hang over the heads of both Conservative and Labour politicians alike like a democratic sword of Damocles.

So… what the hell is actually going on?

Let’s try to break things down a bit.

What’s currently happening, then?

 After last week’s resounding defeat of her deal, Theresa May and her government are currently holding cross-party talks (i.e. with non-Conservative MPs) in a last-ditch attempt to see if there are any potential changes to her deal that, if made, would mean that MPs would be happy to vote it through.

This second vote will be held on Tuesday 29th of January, with a full day’s debate the day before.

That sounds simple enough! Surely everyone can put aside their differences and work in the national interest?

Guess again.

Many of the Conservative “Red Lines,” or pieces of policy within the deal that the Conservatives would, hypothetically, refuse to budge on, are the fundamental issues that saw the vote be annihilated in the House of Commons.

Additionally, Jeremy Corbyn is currently attempting to play out a presumably well-intentioned, but also extremely unhelpful, power play. He is refusing to meet with Theresa May until she agrees that a “No-Deal Brexit” is no longer considered as an option.

Well, if we can’t negotiate a deal, then we should just leave without one, right? 

Mmm, sort of, if you want Brexit to happen.

The default legal position, as set out by Article 50 (the piece of legislation that Theresa May invoked to begin the process of leaving), is that Britain will leave the EU on the 29th March, with or without a deal.

However, the predictions around a No-Deal Brexit are worrying.

Brexiteers have been downplaying the negative effects that No-Deal might bring and, ultimately, they could prove to be right. As with all recent politics, the predominant arguments set by opposing sides is how terrible the other outcome would be, and the doom and gloom about a No-Deal Brexit may well be overhyped.

However, in this writer’s opinion, it would certainly be damaging (although perhaps not apocalyptic). If the UK left the EU without a deal, we would lose the transition period – a vital period between 29th March and 31st December 2020 where we would create and implement the new relationship with the EU and the policies required.

While we would have the chance to resolve these over the transition period if we had a deal, if we have a No-Deal Brexit:

  • All of our current legal processes would need to be restructured immediately, as we would no longer adhere to the European Court of Justice but would still be bound to the European Court of Human Rights, which is not an EU body (confusingly);
  • All of our trading deals with the EU would cease to exist and we would be forced to pay external tariffs on our trade with the EU, making our products more expensive and less appealing;
  • Our controls on immigration would be ours again, but unclear – expats in the EU and EU citizens here might find that their rights to live and work are no longer valid, for instance;
  • And the issue over the Irish border would be unresolved. Essentially, the Republic of Ireland would remain in the EU and Northern Ireland wouldn’t be – there are currently no customs on the border between the two nations (as negotiated during the Good Friday agreements, where the two countries ceased hostilities after decades of turmoil). So, NI citizens could, hypothetically, drive into Ireland, buy EU products for EU prices, then drive back into NI – this is extremely problematic.

Oh. That all sounds bad.

It’s all just-about-manageable, but extremely time-consuming, money-wasting and totally avoidable. Increased prices would hit the poorest people in the country the hardest.

Additionally, many leading businessmen have come out to express concern over No-Deal, which leads this writer to believe that the dangers are very real, much more than the words of politicians would.

That’s very cynical of you.

I know. I don’t care at this stage.

So, what are the other options?

 First, and least likely, is that Brexit is straight-up cancelled. If Article 50 is revoked, Britain can revert back to our current relationship with the EU (the European Court of Justice has promised this). However, Article 50 cannot then be reinstated so it would be a final decision.

Most would argue that this is brazenly ignoring the 52% who voted Leave, and so is extremely unlikely.

…Even though, in this writer’s opinion, we elect our MPs to make these decisions for us and not blindly listen to what us, the great unwashed, have to say on things we barely understand.

Sounds a bit demagogic.

Yep.

Anyway, the second option is that we ask the EU to extend Article 50, so we don’t leave the EU on the 29th of March. This seems reasonably likely, given that Britain has all of the calmness and clear-headed direction of 20 angry cats in a potato sack. If we ask the EU to give us more time to figure out what we want and how to get it, they are likely to give it to us.

However, even this seemingly reasonable option has its detractors – to those hard-line Brexiteers, this is going against the ‘Will of the People,’ who voted for Brexit as it was spelled out to us (i.e. not spelled out in the slightest). To change the default leaving date might worry them that Brexit might not happen at all, so they are vehemently against it.

That sounds a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Well, it gets worse.

Option three, which has been floating around the ether for some time now, is that we have a second referendum.

Whoa boy. That sounds like trouble.

Yeah.

Around 80% of Labour MPs are in favour of a second referendum, despite Corbyn being vehemently against it. Some Tories are in favour too, as well as the SNP and Lib Dems.

A second referendum could take many forms. It could be a second ‘In or Out’ referendum, but the worry here is that this would undermine the democratic rights of those who voted in the first referendum. It could be a two-tiered referendum that is ‘‘In or Out,’ and if Out then ‘Deal or No Deal?’’ Or it could be multi-vote referendum done in terms of preference.

But Remain would surely win a second referendum and put an end to this mess, right?

That is absolutely not certain.

While the public outcry into the liberal echo chambers that this writer inhabits would suggest that yes, a second vote would be overwhelmingly in favour of Remain, there is simply no way to know this for sure.

There are a huge number of ‘What-Ifs.’ For instance:

  • If the margin is 52%-48% in favour of Remain, is that a clear mandate to remain in the EU?
  • If Leave win again, what happens then? A No-Deal Brexit?
  • If Remain win clearly, what happens to the millions of people who voted Leave but saw their Government fail/refuse to do so?

My God this is depressing. There’s absolutely no way to make everyone happy at this stage, is there?

Nope, doesn’t seem that way. No matter what happens, a huge portion of the UK will feel cheated, ignored or belittled.

Christ. So, what will actually happen then?

In this writer’s opinion, on Tuesday we will finally see Theresa May’s deal put to bed for good. There are too many fundamental issues with the deal for it to be voted through by MPs across the political spectrum.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. There is a cross-party group of MPs that are trying their best to prevent a No-Deal Brexit, but would Theresa May really call for a second referendum? She has stated before that she would absolutely not allow one, and as she won a vote of no confidence within her party she cannot be challenged for the leadership until December.

So, she might step down when her vote is finally killed for good on Tuesday, but she is the most obstinate and durable Prime Minister we have seen in recent times so this seems unlikely. She seems utterly determined to see Brexit through to completion, whether it be a No-Deal Brexit, a bad deal Brexit, a Brexit-means-Brexit Brexit or a red-white-and-blue-Brexit.

Alternatively, we could just poke Angela Merkel in the eye, flick the bird to Emmanuel Macron, cut ourselves off from the world and just sit there between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, drinking British Ales from British Breweries, eating turnips, and proudly telling ourselves that we told those EU bigwigs what for.

Even though we will have regressed politically, legally, internationally and morally by about fifty years.

What’s even the point anymore?

I really don’t know.

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