2019: Year of Brexit

Oliver Fisk, Staff Writer

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Though members of British Parliament had a few weeks over the holidays to try to enjoy a wintery respite from the bedlam of Brexit, parliamentary proceedings in 2019 have certainly kicked off strongly. This Tuesday, the House of Commons soundly rejected the deal negotiated between the European Union and Prime Minister Theresa May, 432 votes to 202.

Theresa May has performed perhaps no differently t han any other British Prime Minister would these impossible circumstances herein, but her Brexit deal is a comprehensive failure. Not only has May failed to earn the support of both the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (DUP), whose votes are normally relied upon as part of the current government’s coalition, but almost one third of her own party (118 MPs) voted against her deal.  The defeat is one of truly historic proportions, as never before has a government in power been defeated so handily on its own proposed legislation. Theresa May’s spot in the record books has been unceremoniously secured, never before has a Prime Minister in office appeared so powerless. .

Why did the deal fail? Assuredly, it never did seem likely that the deal would command a working majority. On the one hand, ardent Brexiteers (those who wish to leave the European Union) and Unionists (those against the unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland) find the issue of the backstop untenable. On the other, many more in Westminster, including the Scottish Nationalist Party, find any course of Brexit unpalatable, the Government’s efforts at modifying the flavor are of no consequence. The ‘backstop’ is currently the hurdle most obviously hindering the Prime Minister’s progress. The ‘backstop’ is an insurance policy agreed to early in negotiations by Theresa May to ensure that no hard border arises in Ireland. Because Brexit’s fundamental purpose is to withdraw the United Kingdom from  the European customs union and single market, in the absence of a backstop Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would no longer be members of the same singular economic block in which the two countries currently preside. It is impossible to put up an economic border in Northern Ireland, because doing so risks sparking again the flames of republicanism and sectarianism that prompted 50,000 casualties during the Troubles of the 20th century. Thus, the backstop is required to keep Northern Ireland in alignment with the rest of the EU customs union and single market.

Brexiteers have a few suggestions to solve the quandary. Colorful former Secretary of State MP Boris Johnson suggested that May “take out, excise, surgically remove the backstop.” as he believes the backstop “it’s the problem, [it’s] the lobster pot, [it’s] the trap that keeps us locked in the customs union. Others suggested finding technology to monitor the Northern Irish economic border without palpably affecting day-to-day life. Neither of these solutions have a hope of being desideratums to the situation’s malady, as neither of these solutions are possible in the slightest. The backstop can not be removed, no matter how often Brexiteers bandy about their anti-EU rhetoric. It serves an utterly crucial purpose of inuring Northern Ireland into a state of placidity, rather than the tumult that used to characterize the region. Additionally, though some proclaim that “technology can be found” to monitor the border, I am more skeptical as there exists no such technology capable of passively monitoring the 238 border crossings between the Republic and the North. The Backstop remains firm and fast.

Although indisputably condemned to historical ignominy, the rather obdurate May has shown no signs of a desire on her part to resign. In her remarks subsequent to the deal’s defeat, she said “I believe it is my duty to deliver on [the people’s] instruction, and I intend to do so.

On Wednesday, May faced down opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn in a house-wide vote of confidence. Rather ironically, she defeated her opponent by 325 votes to 306, a margin of 52-48%. ‘Leave’ of course won the 2016 referendum by securing 52% of the country’s vote.  Conservatives who may not ever support her deal were too paralyzed in their fear of arch-socialist Jeremy Corbyn and the prospect of a labor government, and thus didn’t vote against their party leader survival. Also, the DUP proved their essentiality to the government, as Theresa May would have lost by one vote had the 10 MPs from Northern Ireland decided to break the aforementioned Confidence and Supply Agreement and vote against the Conservatives in Government.

As May’s deposition is as unlikely as her deal ever commanding a majority, what then is likely to occur? Some have suggested undergoing a second referendum (with the hopes that the people will decide to remain after all). My passions are duly stirred by such an idea. The move is perhaps inadvisable as it would place by the wayside the results of the UK’s greatest ever democratic vote in the proud nation’s long history, but such upheaval is worth the candle. The people deserve a second chance to express their opinion as theretofore, they had utterly no idea for what they were voting. The ‘leave’ campaign did not offer a concrete plan of action in the case of actually winning, but instead offered a perilous combination of immaterial promises and blatant lies. Now faced with a much more clear choice, the people have a right to re-assert their voice.

It is unlikely however, that a majority within Westminster will be so inclined as to push for a second referendum, so it is more likely that an extremely ‘soft’ Brexit will occur. A brexit of this like would likely keep the UK within the EU’s customs union and single market, or at least extremely closely aligned. The UK would likely still have to abide by economic regulations passed by the European Parliament, a body in which the UK would no longer have a say. However, the UK has voted in favor of EU laws 95% of the time hitherto, so these regulations will most likely be quite attractive to UK businesses. A ‘soft’ Brexit would also solve the Northern Irish question for now and keep the territory in a very close relationship with its familial neighbor to the South.

Unless parliament reaches some agreement as to the future of Brexit however, the UK will crash out of the European Union on the 29th of March and condemn itself to abject economic turmoil. Action is required on Westminster’s behalf in order to save the nation. The UK’s democratic differences must be solved

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2019: Year of Brexit