Brexit Limbo 

Will there eventually

be  a Brexit?

The March 29th, 2019, deadline for Brexit has come and gone. Coming to the next April 12th Brexit deadline extension, the British Prime Minister Theresa May was forced by her parliament to postpone further Brexit. While the European Union (EU) leaders are increasingly getting impatient and annoyed with May and her inability to push forward the Brexit plans, May was allowed to plead her case at the emergency Brexit summit, organised by the European Council President Donald Tusk. May wanted to have a short Brexit extension to June 30th, but Tusk proposed to the EU leaders a long extension of up to a year, so as to avoid being constantly in a crisis situation of extending short deadlines.

 

In spite of the fact that the EU leaders are more and more convinced that May will be unable to get her parliament to agree on the Brexit withdrawal deal, they do not want to be seen as pushing the United Kingdom (UK) into a corner for a no deal Brexit. As a result, May was eventually granted another longer extension till October 31st.

 

However, it looks like Britain is stuck in limbo: as a full member of the EU, through its referendum last June 2016, the UK decided to leave; however, when it's time to leave the EU, its parliament is unable to decide on cutting its umbilical cord with the EU.

"...EU leaders are more and more convinced that May will be unable to get her parliament to agree on the Brexit withdrawal deal..."

Brexit Withdrawal Agreement

 

After the June 2016 referendum with the winning of the Brexit camp, the British thought that they were 'free' to decide on their future course of actions like negotiating their exit from the EU and future trade agreements with their major trade partners. However the EU with the leadership of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel took control of the Brexit negotiations with the appointment of Michel Barnier as the EU Chief negotiator for Brexit. Moreover, negotiations would only start only when the UK triggered the Article 50, formally notifying the EU that it would exit the EU.

BREXIT  TIMELINE

STEEL Advisory Partners - Brexit Key Eve

Rather than having a very 'messy' Brexit negotiation, the phased approach by the EU to first discuss the exit of the UK from the EU and then negotiate on the future trade relations has brought to light how unprepared the UK and Theresa May's Conservative Party were on managing the UK's exit from the EU. The Brexit fantasy of the Brexiteers was that the UK could leave the EU with no strings attached and that the UK could cherry-pick on the most advantageous terms of the trade agreements with individual EU countries and beyond. After more than two years of negotiations with the EU, all these grand illusions have now shattered into pieces.

After six rounds of negotiations, at the end of 2017, the EU leaders and Theresa May finally agreed that "sufficient progress" has been made to move on to the second Brexit negotiation phase about its future trade relations with the UK. With the clock ticking fast, May was still battling the political chaos with her party and within the British parliament. However, the EU was moving steadily in its Brexit plans with Michel Barnier releasing an initial draft of the EU-UK withdrawal agreement last February 2018.

After numerous meetings to discuss on the nitty-gritty of the withdrawal deal, like the transition period till the end of 2020 with the possibility of extension, the rights of the citizens, the Northern Ireland backstop and others, Michel Barnier and Theresa May eventually came out with a deal, that both sides could agree on. While the European Council of the remaining 27 countries has adopted the Brexit conclusion in December 2018, May faced major challenges to get her own party and parliament to endorse the Brexit deal with the EU.

 

Brexit Deal or No Deal

Nearly three years after the Brexit referendum in 2016, the inability of Theresa May and her Conservative Party to rally everybody around a common Brexit vision/plan means that the UK has been mired in constant political pandemonium and total confusion about what to do about Brexit. While some of the hardcore Brexiteers do not mind having a no deal Brexit, thereby cutting completely the links with Brussels, others more moderate are keener on a 'soft-Brexit', that is leaving with a firm Brexit deal with the EU. However, what format should a 'soft-Brexit' take has also not gathered consensus, as shown by the British Parliament rejection of all potential alternative options last March 28th, 2019.

Last November 2018, Britain and the EU finally came to an agreement. And on November 25th, the European Council President Donald Tusk announced that the EU27 countries endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the future EU-UK relations. As for May, she declared that the British Parliament would vote on the deal on December 12th and urged everybody to rally behind the deal. Unfortunately, she postponed the vote since she could not unite her party and other members of the British Parliament to endorse the deal. Eventually, on January 15th, 2019, May's Brexit deal was decisively voted down, with 432 voting against and 202 for. In fact, her Brexit deal was rejected twice again on March 12th and 29th. 

Since May failed to get the Brexit deal adopted last January, the EU has been ramping up its preparations for a potential no deal Brexit on March 29th. With the Brexit deadline fast approaching, what was getting clearer was that although the British politicians wanted to have Brexit, they definitely did not want it to be a no deal Brexit. With the inability of the British Parliament to agree on the Brexit deal and any potential alternatives, May sought the extension of the Brexit deadline twice. May vouched to push forward her Brexit deal with a fourth vote, but looking at the previous attempts, it will look like an uphill battle to get her deal endorsed.

 

Other Possible Scenarios for Britain

 

With Theresa May stuck in her Brexit quagmire to get the Brexit deal ratified, the British people are getting more divided and fed-up with the current Brexit limbo situation. Various petitions are being organised to push the politicians to take action. A petition to revoke Article 50 has gathered more than 6 million signatures, while another is about holding a second Brexit referendum. However the government said that it will neither revoke Article 50 nor organise another Brexit referendum.

 

There are also growing calls for May to step down. In the event of this happening, another general election may have to be called for. But May stated firmly that she would only step down, once she has delivered Brexit. Moreover the British may have to participate in the European Parliament Elections this coming May 23rd. Unless Theresa May is able to get the Brexit deal ratified before then, this Brexit political drama will go on with no clear outcome till the next deadline.

(Published April 2019)

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