Country before party: on Theresa May’s Brexit plan

The British Prime Minister’s cross-party talks may avert a chaotic Brexit

This week, British pragmatism finally found its voice in the U.K.’s complex exit process from the European Union. The government’s deliberations over a withdrawal had been held hostage by the English nationalists among the Conservative party who demand an exit sans an agreement. Prime Minister Theresa May, who had long insisted that “no deal with Brussels was better than a bad deal”, declared on Tuesday that London would not quit without an accord. She clarified she would seek an extension of the April 12 deadline, which she did duly on Friday. Parliamentarians are trying to pass legislation that would require the government to avoid a no-deal Brexit — it has passed through the Commons by a slim majority and awaits its final stages. The government had opposed these moves, initiated by Conservative and Labour MPs in recent parliamentary votes. In a bold but risky gambit, Ms. May began talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to help break the deadlock. While the government has insisted it remains against a customs union, the talks with Labour, which strongly advocates this along with worker and environmental protections, mean that this is inevitably on the table. This is resisted vehemently by many Conservatives. Few seriously believe that Ms. May and Mr. Corbyn will agree to a deal. Equally, the Prime Minister will be severely constrained by the infuriated hardline eurosceptics within her party to not concede too much. That would force the government to ask Parliament once again to find a majority for any one of several alternatives, including the thrice-rejected withdrawal accord. These ‘indicative’ votes failed to deliver a majority to join an EU customs union, offer a second referendum, or revoke Brexit. But these proposals are certain to be put before Parliament with modifications drawn from inputs across different parties.

Calls for a second referendum, once voiced rather mutely by hardcore remainers, have emerged as a legislative proposal. The prevailing state of chaos and confusion, almost three years after the 2016 referendum, has caused immense frustration among businesses and people. But with Parliament having assumed charge of the process — which seems irreversible — there is reason to hope for clarity and certainty. Admittedly, Ms. May’s commitment to a cross-party approach to deliver Brexit has come rather late in the day. But her willingness to put country above party at last has the potential to prevent the catastrophe of Britain going over the cliff when the date of departure eventually approaches. That is no small comfort going by the government’s own assessment of the economic and social impact of the step, besides protecting the peace across Ireland.

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 12:58:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/country-before-party/article26750326.ece

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