Editorial

Escape options: on the Brexit vote

After losing the Brexit vote, the British PM’s best option is to postpone the exit date

After the British Parliament’s overwhelming rejection of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, chances are the government will postpone the March 29 deadline to leave the European Union. An extension of the exit date – hinted at by Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer and France’s President following the vote – seems the least controversial in the spectrum of complex alternatives. For a start, Ms. May is expected to sail through the motion of no-confidence against her government moved by the Opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party. Both the Conservative Eurosceptic backbenchers, and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which supports the minority government in London, have promised to oppose the motion. Consequently, the onus of taking the country out of the EU will remain with Ms. May, who struck a conciliatory note after the defeat in the House of Commons with a 230-vote margin (432 to 202) on Tuesday. Ms. May argues that there is no better deal than the one she has painstakingly negotiated with the other 27 members of the EU. Yet, the build-up to the vote, delayed by over a month, laid bare the difficult task of persuading MPs on the merits of the agreement. Ms. May will hope to win the Commons’ approval on Monday for a Plan B. At the minimum, it must do better on the contentious Irish backstop that could come into force after the transition period expires, and something that Brexit supporters oppose. It is highly improbable that the EU can offer any big improvements so soon to ensure that the backstop, which allows the flow of goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, will not indefinitely lock Britain into a customs union with the EU. Such an arrangement, which would necessarily limit London’s freedom to make trade deals with third states, is regarded as anathema for a country that championed Brexit as a route to regain its sovereignty.

Deep differences persist within the Conservative and Labour parties on the terms of exit they must obtain from Brussels. There is also increasing clamour for a second referendum from remainers in the two parties, who view the uncertainty as symptomatic of a flawed Brexit project. Their case is rooted in concerns that citizens be enabled to make a more informed decision, given the mounting evidence on the economic impact of Brexit. But such enthusiasm would have to be balanced with the consideration that the majority of MPs, despite strong opposition among members, have resolved to respect the June 2016 popular mandate. In any case, a reversal of the 2016 Brexit result is not a guaranteed outcome. There is, meanwhile, support growing within and outside Parliament to avert, at all costs, a crashing out of the EU in late March, with imponderable consequences for the economy and society. Ms. May will gain in stature if she takes Parliament into greater confidence, not just her own party backbenchers.

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 1:41:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/escape-options/article26007001.ece

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