Words by Nicholas Falcinella
You don’t hear of many couples divorcing after forty years. There’s too much baggage, too much shared history. Perhaps even more prohibitive to a conscious uncoupling is the inevitable intermingling of finances and assets. Who gets the house? The kids? How do you prevent reinstating a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom while preserving the at times fragile and certainly hard-won peace at the border, while also delivering the much fetishised ‘sovereignty’ over trade, free movement of people and governance you’ve promised? The usual stuff.
Such is the disagreement playing out as the United Kingdom attempts to exercise its mid-life (or rather, post empire) crisis by excising itself from the European Union. To recap, on 23 June 2016 (Britain’s ‘Independence Day’ according to then-UKIP leader Nigel Farage), the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, by a margin of 52 to 48 per cent. Soon after, Theresa May assumed the Prime Ministership, triggered Article 50 (the article in the Treaty of Lisbon that provides for any EU member to quit the bloc), called a snap general election and subsequently lost her parliamentary majority, negotiated a Brexit deal with EU leaders in Brussels, had the deal voted down by a thumping majority in the UK House of Commons and faced a challenge against her own leadership of the Conservative Party. Things have perhaps not gone exactly as May would have hoped.
Despite all this, the plan remains for the UK to leave the EU on March 29. There are three plausible scenarios as to how this may occur:
- May wins support for her deal.
In this scenario, May is able to either appease rogue ‘eurosceptic’ elements of her own party, or cobble together a coalition of centrist Labour MPs, Liberal Democrats and other MPs for her deal to pass the House of Commons. With demands from eurosceptics for a complete exit from the EU customs union and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s ultimatum that Labour will not support a deal unless the UK remains in the customs union, it is difficult to see how this could occur. One scenario is for Ms May to renegotiate the major bug-bear of the Eurosceptics — the Irish Backstop. This is the largest stumbling block of the whole Brexit process, and if implemented, could result in a resurrection of a hard border between independent Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland and the UK remaining subject to EU customs laws without an political voice or ability to influence policy.
2. No deal Brexit
This outcome is simple; no agreement is reached between the UK and the EU. Critics claim this would result in grounded planes, food and medicine shortages and general economic chaos in both the Western EU countries and the UK. Others argue effects will be minimal and it may be better to simply sever ties with the EU rather than struggle through a prolonged transition period.
3. A people’s vote
The newly established Independent Group, consisting of breakaway members from both Labour and the Conservatives has spurred Corbyn into declaring Labour will back a people’s vote with ‘Remain’ on the ballot paper, if its version of Brexit does not receive the backing of Parliament (it won’t). Advocates for a people’s vote claim voters were fundamentally mislead about the nature of an exit from the EU. Some argue voters should be asked to vote for one of three options; No Deal, May’s Deal or Remain, while others propose a rerun of the 2016 referendum, this time with a more informed electorate that better understands the processes and consequences of Brexit. May has repeatedly ruled out another vote on Brexit and it is not clear that all Labour MPs would vote for an amendment which established one — particularly those representing constituencies that voted to leave the EU.
The only other reasonable option (and most likely at time of writing) is for May to extend the deadline for the UK to leave the EU. While this would only serve to kick the can down the road, it may allow more time for ways to prevent the re-establishment of a hard border with Ireland to be developed.
The situation with Brexit changes every day and it is not clear that all parties are acting in good faith. Some Conservatives seem content to let May bear the burden of a chaotic Brexit, and then replace her as Prime Minister once the divorce has been finalised. Labour, despite its protestations that they could handle Brexit better, is thankful that they don’t have to manage this shitshow.
Separations are messy, even when far less is at stake. The most acceptable solution, at this point, would be for May to postpone withdrawal and for Labour to lobby effectively for a people’s vote with Remain on the ballot. Only then can the British people make an informed decision and, hopefully, convince their feuding parents to stay together, if only for the wellbeing of their children and their future.