‘Nothing has changed’. Those were the words British Prime Minister Theresa May repeated over and over again while trying to defend a U-turn she was pressured into making ,due to the un-popular proposals for social care in the Conservative Party manifesto ,during the run-up to the 2017 early general election. After an early election which she herself had called, the political gamble didn’t pay off, and the UK has had far from a strong and stable government, which was May’s crucial promise. One can apply ‘Nothing has changed’, not only to the political instability in the UK, but the utter confusion surrounding Brexit, and how a solution to the uncertainty regarding Brexit seems far from achievable.
Needless to say, the debacle surrounding Brexit is far from resolved, and it seems that like as if it will take a long time for that to be so. Following an Informal Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the EU held in Salzburg, Austria in September, it was very evident that EU leaders would not accept Theresa May’s Chequers plan, which proposes to take the UK out of the European Single Market and Customs Union and effectively ending free movement between the UK and the rest of the EU. The leaders of 27 EU member states felt that they could not agree to an agreement which consists of such proposals, while also aiming to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and therefore felt that a compromise is necessary. The EU has been making it clear that I cannot accept having an open border with the Republic of Ireland and within its jurisdiction, and a former member state which does not allow free movement, while Theresa May cannot accept having the UK being into two customs areas and having Northern Ireland shelved off from the rest of the UK. After this summit, Theresa May stated that negotiations were now at an impasse, and European Council president Donald Tusk stated that a no-deal scenario for Brexit was extremely likely as he was not optimistic that a deal would be reached.
Questions rising from the Irish border issue only kept on creating more difficulties for the British government, as Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab rushed off to Brussels to meet with EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier for an unexpected meeting in early October. Rumours that a deal was close to being reached were quickly squashed, as a deal on Britain’s exit from the EU is still far from being reached, with fears of a no-deal Brexit made exasperated even further by the Democratic Unionist Party, upon which Theresa May depends on for an overall majority in the House of Commons, after its leader Arlene Foster also had a private meeting with Michel Barnier. As the DUP is propping up the Conservative government with its 10 MP’s in the House of Commons, it maintains that an open border in Ireland has to be preserved to prevent the UK from being divided, whilst the EU has been persuading Theresa May to give more concessions over the Irish ‘backstop’, which would only serve as a last resort in an al-encompassing deal, if it had to become a reality.
As matters have gone from one level of intensity to another, Former Brexit Secretary David Davis called for other members of Theresa May’s cabinet to resign in rebellion over the Chequers plan, only for there to be more statements of loyalty towards the prime minister. Despite this, the civil war within the Conservative Party is all the more evident, just as more doubt is cast into the British government’s stability since the DUP stated that it could vote against the government’s budget to be presented in late October, should it still be unsatisfied with Theresa May’s Brexit plans, thus possibly triggering a no-confidence vote in the government. Donald Tusk has encouraged EU leaders to brace for a special summit to be held in November to deal with the emergency measures of a no-deal scenario, since do deal was agreed upon in October. If a deal is reached in November, British MP’s will be asked to vote on it, whereas if no deal is reached, then there will be an emergency summit in December. Amidst all of this confusion, there have also been talks of the EU extending the transition period after the UK leaves the EU beyond the proposed 21- month period after March 2019, effectivity leaving the UK under EU-jurisdiction for a period of time when it leaves the EU.
Amidst all this chaos, there has been more doubt rather than confidence shown towards Theresa May’s leadership of the Conservative Party, and of the UK as a whole, with calls for her resignation continuing to mount, as rumours of plots within her own party to have her removed as leader increase even more. The debate revolving around Brexit has split the UK into two political camps, with those demanding that the result of the 2016 referendum be respected and that a completely new deal be drafted, have now formed the ‘Leave means Leave’ group, spearheaded by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, and Conservative MP Jacob Reese-Mogg. On the other side of the spectrum, those who backed the Remain campaign for the UK to stay in the EU have now formed the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign group, which is calling for a referendum on the final agreement between the EU and the UK, and this position gained even more ground when a protest in support of this referendum held in London on the 20th of October, attracted over 700,000 people.
As affairs relating to Brexit continue to be as uncertain as ever, this developing debacle carries on being as unpredictable as it has been since its inception. With no clear end result in sight, the situation surrounding Brexit might very well remain the same, and stay in the direction as it has been going as of late, or it just might change, and produce a result defeating all the odds stacked against it.
Written by: Jacob Callus