By Ryan Simpson
If there’s one thing we can all agree on is that Brexit is a mess, its caused economic chaos, uncertainty for business and investors, fractures in political parties and divided the people. With only five weeks to go, let’s look at what’s happened this year and what’s yet to come.
As of writing we have thirty-five days before we leave on March 29th, a date that’s been in the minds of the British people for the last two years. Since parliament came back after the winter recess, we’ve had two votes on the PM’s deal, (both of which have failed) numerous amendments in the commons and a motion of no-confidence tabled by the opposition (which also failed). I’m sure we’ve all seen the constant reminders from the papers and media outlets assuring us that a deal will be reached but if you ask me, there’s no chance a deal will be reached before the exit date. Now allow me to explain why, there’s just not enough sitting days in parliament to move all EU laws into British law, each one must be discussed and debated before a vote. It then goes to the Lords to be debated and again voted on; it’s unlikely the Lords will vote down any of these bills.
On February 27th there is to be another vote on the PM’s deal which is expected to be voted down again. With four weeks to go after this vote there are five choices as what to do:
Seek an extension of Article 50 to renegotiate a deal.
Call a second referendum on EU membership.
A general election based around the EU membership.
Continue to try and negotiate around the Irish backstop and Theresa May’s deal.
Crash out of the EU with any no-deal plans the government has planned.
There’s no telling what could happen but with Theresa May refusing to budge on many aspects of her deal and the EU refusing to re-open negotiations, the chance of the UK leaving without a deal is the most likely.
With the European Research Group led by Jacob Rees-Mogg and hardline Brexiteers against her, along with the resignations of three of her backbench MP’s yesterday and the probability of more, she only has 314 MPs left. Along with her confidence and supply partners the DUP, May hasn’t got the majority needed to pass legislation. Theresa May is a sitting duck to possible rebels looking to take her position, we already know that before the next election in 2022 she is to stand down as party leader of the Conservatives; but if she gets her deal through parliament and the UK have not agreed a new trade deal with the EU by December 31st 2020, the backstop negotiated in her withdrawal deal will have to put into place.
The EU negotiators have said numerous times that the backstop in the PM’s deal is non-negotiable and is there for legal reasons to stop a hard border returning between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The two major parties in Northern Ireland: Sinn Fein and the DUP; have both said that returning to a hard border in Ireland must not happen, as the stability of the region could be put at risk. The backstop in the PM’s deal is there to keep Northern Ireland within the EU, even after the leaving date if no trade deal has been negotiated. If the backstop is triggered it has no end date and could potentially go on to the end of the century, this is why many of the Tory backbench MPs; specifically the ERG and hardline Brexiteers, along with the DUP MPs are against the backstop. They believe by giving Northern Ireland special treatment it will put the union at risk of breaking and increasing the likelihood for both Scottish independence and Irish unification.
Many politicians within the devolved administrations and the opposition parties in Westminster, have called on the government to allow for a second referendum (or Peoples Vote) on Brexit itself, believing that the circumstances of Brexit have changed and the people were lied to in the referendum. One of which involves a former Mayor of London; now Tory MP and a red bus. Even former Prime Minister, Sir John Major has come out today calling on a “mainstream majority” of Tory and Labour MPs to stop the UK leaving. With many people and members of his own party losing trust in Jeremy Corbyn; due to allegations of anti-Semitism within Labour. As well as a lack of a Brexit strategy and failure to provide a strong opposition against the Conservatives, people have been looking to the other minority parties within Westminster to try and stop a no-deal scenario.
The SNP in Scotland have arguably been the only opposition to Theresa May and her minority government; even going so far to create its own continuity bill in March 2018 to plug any gaps created by the UK’s bill. This was passed using emergency procedures in the Scottish parliament after MSP’s refused to give consent to the UK’s withdrawal agreement, saying it’s a power grab that threatens the devolved administrations act (I should also mention here that Wales also had its own version in order to stop the Westminster power grab). The British government, outraged by this took both devolved parliaments to the UK Supreme Court, claiming they acted outside their remit. The Supreme Court found that the continuity bill was within legislative competence of the Scottish parliament as it did not relate to reserved matters. Unfortunately because of the time taken to go through the courts, the UK withdrawal agreement was given royal ascent (made into law) before the Scottish bill could be reviewed; UK law supersedes that of the devolved administrations.
With Theresa May still trying to push for changes to the backstop, Jeremy Corbyn deciding whether or not to support May’s deal or a second referendum, or come up with his own strategy; the chances of a general election changing the political situation in Britain is unlikely. It was already voted down by the opposition’s vote of no-confidence in the government on January 16th and the only other option is if an outright majority (66%) of MPs vote in favor of dissolving parliament and triggering an election. This would take weeks to plan and would require an extension to Article 50. An election at this time could be disastrous, causing more division in the people and could spell the end to the major parties as each of the pro-Brexit and pro-Remain sides of both the Tories and Labour fracturing and potentially splitting. We’ve already seen seven Labour MPs leave the party on Monday, with an eighth following last night; along with three Tory MPs leaving the government backbenches on Wednesday forming a centrist independent group. Whither or not this group forms their own center leaning party in the future is uncertain but with more speculated to split from both parties it could be a repeat of the 1981 Labour split, which then formed into the Social Democrat Party. The SDP later merging with the Liberal party forming today’s Liberal Democrats in 1988.
As I mentioned earlier the likely outcome of Brexit is no-deal, which means we leave on March 29th at 11pm. With no future trade deal we could see shortages of medicines, food, and other goods with tailbacks of delivery trucks waiting to be checked as EU and UK regulations will have ceased. Driving licenses may not carry over to EU nations and people may have to pay for a permit to drive on EU roads; people moving to EU nations would then have to take a driving test in that country in order to legally drive. Last year the EU abolished roaming charges for phones between EU nations; this could also change with massive bills to and from the UK. Along with other major disruptions expected to many aspects of daily life MPs ate calling on the UK government to start implementing strategies to combat the threat of no deal, although there just isn’t enough time to legislate these into law.
As we all know, Scotland held an independence referendum in 2014, since then we have seen massive increase in SNP membership and a change in opinion polls for independence. This change is down to one of the main arguments for the “Better Together” campaign, which guaranteed Scotland’s place in the EU if they stayed within the UK. Along with the vow that was promised by the three major parties in Westminster at the time (to give Scotland more powers) and the currency argument; this resulted in the 55% result to stay in the UK. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay within the EU with 62% during the 2016 vote, the second highest behind Gibraltar at 95.9%. In the 2015 General Election the SNP made huge gains in seats taking all but 3 of the 59 available the largest majority of Scottish seats held by any party. In 2017 they lost 21 seats, mostly due to the Labour manifesto pledges and the premature announcement of a second independence referendum. Nicola Sturgeon has said that a new referendum on independence should be held one the terms of Brexit have been made clear to the people of Scotland. The SNP were elected with a minority in the 2016 Scottish elections on a manifesto pledge that if there was any constitutional change like Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its will, the people should have the right to choose their future. With help from the Scottish Greens the SNP could pass a Section 30 order of the 1999 Scotland Act asking for the power to hold a referendum.
There’s no telling definitively what the outcome of Brexit will be, either the sunshine and rainbows promised by the Leave campaign in 2016 , the hellish apocalypse that Remainers are predicting, or even the eventual break up of this 300+ year old union of nations but one this is certain, it will be a surprise for sure.