AGARWAL: Can We Be Done With Brexit Already?


Sunday, October 27, 2019

The only certainty with Brexit right now is that nothing is ever certain. A no-deal Brexit seemed imminent, but over the last two weeks, something truly remarkable happened; Prime Minister Boris Johnson managed to secure a withdrawal agreement with the European Union. Even more remarkable, the Brexit deal passed through a languished Parliament, something his predecessor Theresa May failed to do in her three years as Prime Minister. 

Mrs. May coined a popular motto for Brexiteers, “Brexit means Brexit.” Despite this pledge, though, the deal she had negotiated with Brussels could not have achieved Brexit—in fact, The Spectator dubbed it as “remain minus.” 

The new withdrawal agreement negotiated by Mr. Johnson, however, achieves Brexit and much more. It takes Britain out of the EU’s political structures, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the Single Market, and the Customs Union. It doesn’t contain the highly controversial and undemocratic backstop which would have effectively trapped Britain in the EU even after Brexit. It resolves the Irish border issue with a customs check in the Irish sea, while Northern Ireland would remain a part of the United Kingdom’s customs territory. Northern Ireland would be free to opt out of this arrangement with an assembly vote every four years. 

More importantly, the UK would be free to strike its own trade deals with other countries. Mrs. May committed to “level the playing field” in her deal, which would have kept Britain legally bound to EU laws regarding foreign investment, worker’s rights, and competition—among others. Instead, under Johnson’s deal, Britain is free to negotiate trade deals with individual countries and decide its own regulations on matters such as investments, tax policy, environmental issues, and competition law. 

The Parliament passed the agreement, and that should have been the end of the Brexit drama. Alas, it wasn’t so. The government’s programme motion—which would have taken Britain out of the European Union by the October 31st deadline—was rejected, holding Britain’s departure further in abeyance, which had already been delayed twice

The future of Brexit lies solely within the hands of the EU. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, has signaled that Brussels may be willing to grant an extension until January 31st. The French, however, aren’t as keen on prolonging the extension game and would like to get done with this as soon as possible. The EU has issues besides Brexit, and what’s more, the longer the extension, the higher the risk of a no-deal Brexit. As such, Brussels now wants an amicable settlement with Britain.

With a Brexit deal in hand, Boris Johnson thinks it is appropriate to call for a general election on December 12th. The latest polls show “Leave” voters who had previously defected to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party are returning to the Tories. Only four months ago, the Brexit Party was topping the polls, now they’re in fourth place. The Conservative Party maintains a comfortable lead over Labour in opinion polls, and the latest numbers are reassuring for the Tories. He is confident that his party can win a majority, thanks to a fractured opposition, and thus finally achieve Brexit. 

However, there is no clear path to a general election. The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act of 2011 (FTPA) mandates that a general election cannot be called before the completion of the current Parliament’s term unless two-thirds of MPs vote for one. The opposition isn’t too keen on that, rightly fearing that disaffected voters will overwhelmingly back the Tories if the sole issue of the election is Brexit. Furthermore, there is a fear that the anti-Johnson vote will be split between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Other paths that lead to a general election include calling for a no-confidence vote or passing a one-line bill by a simple majority that would overrule the FTPA. The current stagnation in Parliament makes even the prospects for a general election nebulous. 

Meanwhile, the Tories are already focusing on a beyond-Brexit vision for Great Britain. They aspire to a low-tax, business-friendly nation to foster economic growth, free from serpentine EU regulations. Johnson also has ambitions to rebuild industrial communities in the North, increase funding for healthcare and education, and deploy more police officers inter alia. Other nations are also effusive to striking free trade deals with Britain amid global tensions from the US-China trade war. All of this will appeal to voters beyond the current base of the Party. 

Ultimately, the choice for Parliament is clear: either accept the outcome of the 2016 referendum or face the wrath of the voters. A large chunk of MPs have clearly abdicated to do the former and are now abstaining from answering to the people who put them in charge. The economy is suffering from uncertainty, and things would ease when Brexit is done. More importantly, however, the longer this sluggishness continues the uglier British politics are likely to get. 

And so the British people ask in enervation: can we be done with Brexit already?

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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