Britain Is Still Making Brexit Impossible

Lawmakers vote down the withdrawal agreement a second time. With a Brexit deal, the United Kingdom could be thrown into chaos.

View of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, December 21, 2011
View of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, December 21, 2011 (Ben Sutherland)

When British lawmakers in January voted down the treaty that is meant to regulate their country’s withdrawal from the EU, I argued they were making Brexit impossible.

They still are. Parliament rejected a revised deal on Tuesday.

Signifying nothing

A lot has happened in the last few weeks, but nothing of consequence has changed.

  • Prime Minister Theresa May has gone back to Brussels to try to get a better deal. EU negotiators have agreed to some changes, but the gist of the withdrawal agreement that was completed in November (main points here) remains unchanged.
  • Eight lawmakers have resigned from Labour, and three from the Conservatives, to form a new centrist group in Parliament. It did not persuade May to change her policy.
  • It did convince Jeremy Corbyn to come out in favor of a second Brexit referendum, which the majority of Labour supports. But by now it is probably too late.

Why few want the deal

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party oppose the withdrawal agreement because it takes the United Kingdom out of the European customs union and single market.

The Conservative right opposes it because it could keep Northern Ireland in the single market for goods, and the whole of the UK in a customs union with the EU, if no better solution is found to prevent a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. This is the so-called Northern Ireland backstop.

Who is to blame

Primarily to blame are the Brexit fantasists who insist a better deal is possible.

The backstop was only invented because they would not accept continued membership of the EU single market, like Norway, or a separate deal for Northern Ireland that could have created the need for customs checks between it and the island of Great Britain.

But May is also at fault for putting party before country and trying to appease Conservative hardliners rather than reach out to pro-Europeans in the Labour Party to achieve a “soft” Brexit.

Then again, it is doubtful those pro-Europeans would have defied their leader, Corbyn, and put the national interest first. Few British politicians have.

Unless there is a delay, or Britain decides against leaving (the European Court of Justice has ruled it can change its mind unilaterally and any time), Brexit will happen on March 29. Without a deal, the country would be thrown into chaos.