“LET us have a say; let’s find the way forward,” has been the mood in post-Brexit referendum British Parliament for months since 2018 as countdown to their exit from European Union (EU) homed in on final lag. But in the end they could not quite do it, or so they are telling a spectating world already saying that Britain does not know what it wants if voting blocs in House of Commons cannot close ranks to strike a deal from available options for creaseless divorce with Brussels – however pyrrhic or otherwise.
Even at EU headuartres in Brussels, the mood is one of disbelief that Britain still does not seem to know what it wants, going with or going without Brexit.
In the Commons votes on Monday, Members of Parliament (MPs) rejected a customs union with EU by three votes. A motion for another referendum got the most votes in favour, but still lost.
Slowly but eerily this drags Britain to two inexorable, if freakish, choices as weeks melt to days on its way to April 12 exit date. Should it leave EU without a deal or convoke an extempore general election in response to any impasse a chaotic Brexit may trigger?
While this Catch-22 scene, which dangles before Britain like a sword of Damocles, continues to divide opinions in Queen’s own country, one Brexiteer bathes no eyelid. He is former British Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London, Boris Johnson – who doesn’t think an impromptu election will do good democracy any good. But not a few are seeing Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as Esau’s hand in this uncommon confusion in House of Commons.
According to Johnson, early polls would “solve nothing” and would “just infuriate people” because it may end up sounding a stillbirth knell on Brexit.
But there is only one fire dreg stoking this sort of fear among those in Johnson’s camp. For them, only somebody who “really believes in Brexit” should be in charge once Theresa May steps down, in order not to rock the boat. Yet, at least for now, none of them knows who that could be.
Hitting out at MPs in his own party – five of whom voted against a customs union and four of whom voted against Common Market – on a BBC phone-in programme Tuesday night, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb said he was “ashamed to be a member of this Parliament.”
If Lamb alone has the say, Commons was “playing with fire and will unleash dark forces unless we learn to compromise.” But there are still many others, predictably MPs known to be prominent Brexiteers, who are glad that House of Commons has concluded nothing. One of them is Steve Baker, a Tory MP from Wycombe.
According to Baker, May may have to go back to Brussels and persuade EU to rewrite the withdrawal deal. But on this count he seems to suggest what the prime minister had done for the fourth time or something they have so far refused to do. Otherwise the choice is between no deal and no Brexit.
Senior figures in EU, though, showed their frustration at the latest moves in Westminster. European Parliament Brexit Coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, tweeted that by voting down all the options, a “hard Brexit becomes nearly inevitable.”
Guy suggests that EU leaders are also questioning the logic of arguing over things like a customs union or Common Market option at this stage where, as things presently stands, Britain has only three options as may be rationally seen among no deal, no Brexit or Theresa May’s deal, shelving anything else as topic or matter for future talks when Britain must have actually divorced EU.
This seems to rhyme with EU chief negotiator on Brexit, Michel Barnier’s roadmap. To him, no deal option is more likely but can yet be avoided with another fear on a long extension to April 12 exit date as posing ‘significant risks for EU’ hence only a “strong justification would be needed” to toe this line.
This lends credence to indications that May’s cabinet has considered plans to “ramp up” preparations for a no-deal Brexit, with a snap general election waiting in the wings for any stalemate.
Former Brexit Secretary, David Davis, said only way forward was to address the controversial Irish backstop – a measure to avoid return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. But the Leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, said May’s deal was best option.
“The compromise option, the one that delivers on EU referendum but at the same time enables us to accommodate the wishes of those who wanted to remain in the EU – that is the best compromise,” she said.
Meanwhile, horse trading intensifies along parliamentary caucuses in the Commons to rescue Britain from logjam in the days doubling down on April 12. There was a five-hour cabinet meeting on Tuesday and another round of indicative non-binding votes yesterday. But May could bring her withdrawal deal back before MPs for a fourth vote tomorrow, leading up to an emergency summit of EU leaders on Wednesday to consider any UK request for further extension beyond Friday April 12, if Britain does (not) seek and EU does (not) grant further delay before European Parliamentary elections between May 23-26.