Brexit Britain from Abroad: Brussels Waits as Britain Negotiates With Itself
The Road to Brexit is Troublesome
Such is the government’s shaky hold on the Commons that almost any outcome is possible in Brexit votes there. Having lost her majority in last June’s election, Prime Minister Theresa May depends on the support of the small Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, whose views she must take into account.
In the Commons, her Conservative Party’s 316 members include a minority of about 60 hard-line pro-Brexit lawmakers who want to sever most ties to the EU and who regularly suggest they will vote down the government over any proposal that hugs the bloc too close. The party also includes a smaller knot of strongly pro-EU members who could vote with the opposition to deliver a less abrupt break.
Holding all of the potential Conservative rebels back is the risk that their votes could bring about a crisis in the form of another general election. That could bring the Labour Party’s left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn to power with policies such as renationalizing a host of industries.
Labour’s official position is that it favors staying in a customs union under certain conditions, though many of its lawmakers would prefer to stick closer to the EU than that.
It is thus not at all unlikely that the Commons could reject the government’s agreed approach and insist that the U.K. stay part of the EU’s customs union, at least for a time. How Conservative hard-liners would react to that is unclear.
Because of the uncertainty over Parliament, the government will likely delay many key votes until the autumn. But a decision over customs is more urgent than that, because the government hopes it will provide a solution to avoid creating a visible border on the island of Ireland, an issue the EU has said it wants to see settled by next month.
However, once the government has agreed on an approach, it amounts only to a negotiating position to put to the EU.
Internal Divisions STalling Talks
Negotiators in Brussels are twiddling their thumbs, leaving chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier free to travel to Ireland while May's Cabinet in London still can't get its act together. With a majority of one, ministers rejected the PM's plan for a "customs partnership" with the EU. It's a complicated model where the UK would collect tariffs for the EU and maintain some regulation in order to prevent border checks. Brexiteers are calling foul and want "Max Fac" instead, a technological solution that does not yet exist and may never be feasible.
May retaliated by dividing her cabinet into two working groups tasked with creating a solution. This left ministers free to speculate in the media about treason in the other camp — going against the will of the people and so on. Never mind that the EU has turned down both of these variants for the future of the customs union as unworkable — London continues to furiously negotiate with itself. Brussels can do nothing but wait.
Scotland’s Snub Risks Constitutional Crisis
Scottish parliamentarians voted 93 to 30 in favor of a motion that refuses to grant their "consent" to the British government's bill led by conservative Theresa May and already the subject of major divisions in the Westminster Parliament in London.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) in power has allied with the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens against the Conservative Party.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, head of the SNP, said the UK is moving towards "uncharted constitutional territory".
Her government had called on the Edinburgh Parliament to reject the bill, which would allow the UK to continue to function normally when it cuts the cord with the EU bloc. It puts an end to the supremacy of European law over British national law and organizes the transposition of European regulations.
Brexit Bashes British Industry
Thanks to Brexit, Japanese carmakers, who account for more than 40 per cent of British car output, could lose free access to the single market and end up subject to significant tariffs exporting into Europe. Unless the UK can strike special deals, Japanese car manufacturers could easily jump ship into Europe to circumvent future trade barriers. Britain’s car production hub in Sunderland, which voted 61 per cent in favour of quitting Europe, would be pole-axed by any such moves.
Leaving Europe is already taking its toll on the economy, especially for those British firms hoping to stay involved in costly EU joint ventures. Hi-tech UK companies, especially in the aerospace and defence industries, are already feeling the pinch from being frozen out of the bidding process for new euro contracts. It can only get worse.
But there could be positive spin-offs too, as threats to exclude British firms from future involvement in Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation programme could spur Britain into going it alone with its own rival system, sparking a vital new rush of jobs and investment into the British space industry. Funding would be key.
Whether Britain has the wherewithal to go it alone is critical. Financing alternative ventures to rival expensive projects like the Typhoon Eurofighter could be beyond British means, especially after years of domestic austerity cutbacks. Unless the government stumps up the necessary funds to beef up Britain’s crumbling industrial infrastructure, the outlook is bleak. Output, jobs, exports and growth are all at risk outside Europe.
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