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Theresa May and politics of Brexit

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British Prime Minister Theresa May meets President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (off frame) at the United Nations in New York on September 25, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Angela Weiss


For more than a year now, Brexit, a portmanteau of “British exit” has never left the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) discussion tables. There have been lots of disagreements over the deal arising from negotiations led by Prime Minister Theresa May, getting to the point of threatening her job.
Unpicking 43 years of treaties and agreements covering thousands of different subjects was never going to be a straightforward task. It is further complicated by the fact that it has never been done before and negotiators are, to some extent, making it up as they go along.
   
The impending withdrawal of the UK from the European Union (EU) follows the referendum of 23 June 2016, when 51.9 per cent of those who voted supported withdrawal, which has been advocated by Eurosceptics, both left-wing and right-wing, while Pro-Europeanists (or European Unionists), who also span the political spectrum, have advocated continued membership.
 
The UK joined the European Communities (EC) in 1973 under the Conservative government of Edward Heath, with continued membership endorsed by a referendum in 1975. In the 1970s and 1980s, mainly the political left advocated withdrawal from the European Communities, with the Labour Party’s 1983 election manifesto advocating complete withdrawal.
 
In the late 1980s, opposition to the development of the EC into an increasingly political union grew on the right, with Margaret Thatcher, despite being a key proponent of the European single market becoming increasingly ambivalent towards Europe. From the 1990s, opposition to further European integration came mainly from the right, and divisions within the Conservative Party led to rebellion over the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.
 
The new UK Independence Party (UKIP) was a major advocate of a further referendum on continued membership of what had now become the European Union, and the party’s growing popularity in the early 2010 resulted in UKIP being the most successful UK party in the 2014 European Parliament election.
 
The Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron pledged during the campaign for the 2015 UK General Election to hold a new referendum, a promise that he fulfilled in 2016, following the pressure from the Eurosceptic wing of his party. Cameron, who had campaigned to remain, however resigned after the result, paving the way for Theresa May, his former Home Secretary to succeed him. She called a snap general election less than a year later, in which she lost her overall majority. The Democratic Unionist Party supports her minority government in key votes.
 
The UK Independence Party, which received nearly four million votes – 13 percent of those cast – in the 2015 general election, but saw their vote collapse to about a quarter of that at this year’s election, has campaigned for many years for Britain’s exit from the EU. They were joined in their call during the referendum campaign by about half the Conservative Party’s MPs, including Boris Johnson and five members of the then Cabinet. A handful of Labour MPs and Northern Ireland Party the DUP were also in favour of leaving.
 
They said their reason was that Britain was being held back by the EU, which they said imposed too many rules on business and charged billions of pounds a year in membership fees for little in return. They also wanted the UK to make all of its own laws again, rather than being created through shared decision making with other EU nations.Immigration was also a big issue for Brexit supporters. They wanted Britain to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of people coming there to live and/or work.
 
One of the main principles of EU membership is “free movement”, which means one does not need to get a visa to go and live in another EU country. The Leave campaign also objected to the idea of “ever closer union” between EU member states and what they see as moves towards the creation of a “United States of Europe”.On the contrary, then Prime Minister David Cameron was the leading voice in the Remain campaign, after reaching an agreement with other European Union leaders that would have changed the terms of Britain’s membership had the country voted to stay in.
   
He said the deal would give Britain “special” status and help sort out some of the things British people said they didn’t like about the EU, like high levels of immigration – but critics said the deal would make little difference.Sixteen members of Mr. Cameron’s Cabinet, including May, also backed staying in. The Conservative Party was split on the issue and officially remained neutral in the campaign. The Labour Party, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats were all in favour of staying in.
 
The then U.S. president Barack Obama also wanted Britain to remain in the EU – unlike his successor, Donald Trump, who is an enthusiastic champion of Brexit – as did the leaders of other EU nations such as France and Germany.Those campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU said it got a big boost from membership. It makes selling things to other EU countries easier and, they argued, the flow of immigrants, most of whom are young and keen to work, fuels economic growth and helps pay for public services.
  
They also said Britain’s status in the world would be damaged by leaving and that UK is more secure as part of the 28 nation club, rather than going to be alone.On 29 March 2017, the Government of the United Kingdom invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, which says that any member state may decide to withdraw from the union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements. On this provision, the UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, when the period for negotiating a withdrawal agreement will end unless an extension is agreed.
 
May announced the government’s intention not to seek permanent membership of the European single market or the EU customs union after leaving the EU and promised to repeal the European Communities Act of 1972 and incorporate existing European Union law into UK domestic law.
  
Negotiations with the EU officially started in June 2017, with the aim to complete the withdrawal agreement by October 2018. In June 2018, the UK and the EU published a joint progress report outlining agreement on issues including customs, VAT and Euratom. In July 2018, the British Cabinet agreed to the Chequers plan, an outline of proposals by the UK Government. In November, the Draft Withdrawal Agreement and Outline Political Declaration, agreed between the UK Government and the EU, was published.
 
After months of negotiation, the UK and EU agreed a Brexit deal, which comes in two parts; a 585-page withdrawal agreement. This is a legally binding text that sets the terms of the UK’s divorce from the EU. It covers how much money the UK owes the EU – an estimated £39billion – and what happens to UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK. It also proposes a method of avoiding the return of a physical Northern Ireland border.
   
There is a 26-page statement on future relations. It is not legally binding and sketches out the kind of long-term relationship the UK and EU want to have in a range of areas, including trade, defence and security.The UK cabinet agreed the withdrawal agreement text on November 14, but some key officials resigned, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. Raab was replaced by Jeremy Hunt.
 
MPs have been debating the deal but the PM postponed a Commons vote scheduled for 11 December to seek “further assurances” from the EU for MPs about the post-Brexit plan for the Irish border.MPs say it is not what people voted for – and it could keep the UK tied to the EU indefinitely, without any say over its rules. Some have even argued that it would be worse than staying in the EU.

They also argue that it is a worse deal for the UK than staying in the EU. Brexiteers say the text of the draft deal is a capitulation to Europe and a betrayal of the British people who voted to leave Europe.They argue the proposed “backstop”, where the UK remains in the EU’s customs union for a period of time, unacceptably ties the UK to the bloc and its regulations.Mrs. May argues it is the only way to ensure there is no need for a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, meaning physical passport and customs checks would not return.
Under the plan, an independent arbitration committee will judge when a UK-wide customs backstop can be terminated. It would be made up of British and EU representatives along with independent members.

But for staunch Brexiteers in the Conservative Party a clean split or divorce is what the people wanted and what they should be delivered.This is a split of a nation from a whole continent, so it seems almost unconscionable that the details have not already been signed, sealed and delivered.

And with just over 90 days until the end of the union it is little wonder Britain’s financial markets are jittery and businesses are increasingly nervous, not to mention the populace at large.UK Labour party says it accepts the referendum result and that Brexit is going to happen. But it opposes Theresa May’s Brexit plan, and wants to stop it and force a general election. If, however, it stops the PM’s plan and there is no general election it says the option of a new referendum would be on the table.
 
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would negotiate a permanent customs union with the EU after Brexit, which would be very similar to the one it has now. This is the only way to keep trade flowing freely and protect jobs, he says, as well as ensuring there is no return to a “hard border” in Northern Ireland. He has ruled out staying a member of the single market, as some of his pro-EU MPs want, so he can carry out his plans to nationalise key industries without being hampered by EU competition rules.
 
He said the UK should have a very close relationship with the single market. Labour accepts that some form of free movement of people might have to continue. Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said Labour should seek to delay Brexit by extending the Article 50 period, if it wins power in a general election before 29 March.
 
The broad consensus among economists is that Brexit will likely reduce the UK’s real per capita income in the medium term and long term, and that the Brexit referendum itself damaged the economy. Studies on effects since the referendum show annual losses of £404 for the average UK household from increased inflation, and losses between 2 and 2.5 per cent of UK GDP.
 
Brexit is likely to reduce immigration from European Economic Area (EEA) countries to the UK, and poses challenges for UK higher education and academic research. As of September, the size of the “divorce bill”, the UK’s inheritance of existing EU trade agreements, and relations with Ireland and other EU member states remains uncertain. The precise impact on the UK depends on whether the process will be a “hard” or “soft” Brexit.
 
Analysis by HM Treasury has found that no Brexit scenario is expected to improve the UK economic condition. A Treasury publication of November on the potential impact of the Chequers proposal estimated that it would leave the UK economy 3.9 percent worse off after 15 years compared with staying in the EU”.
 
On December 12, 2018, Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote. 200 Conservative MPs voted in support of her leadership, while 117 voted against her. 48 Conservative MPs had submitted letters of no confidence to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady, triggering the vote of no confidence in May’s leadership.
   
May declared she had a “renewed mission — delivering the Brexit people voted for, bringing the country back together and building a country that really works for everyone.”She had earlier warned rebellious lawmakers that ousting her would not make getting a better Brexit deal any easier and would instead bring delay and confusion.
   
In an 11th-hour meeting with her backbench, apparently to win further support, May told Tory members that she would not stand for election before the public again.However, on December 17, May triggered the ire of lawmakers when she announced that she was delaying a parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal, after concluding it would have faced a devastating defeat in the House of Commons. 
   
Not for the first time in the Brexit process, confusion reigned in the UK parliament when opposition leader, Corbyn, proposed another vote of no confidence against May, only to later backtrack. The prime minister ended up walking out of the chamber. Opposition MPs from other parties are now furious with both May and Corbyn.
   
The motion came on the back of growing frustration in the Commons since May postponed the “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal that was meant to take place on December 11, but which is now due to take place this January.This is not quite the no-confidence motion that Westminster watchers have been speculating about over the past few weeks, because it is only expressing a lack of confidence in the prime minister, rather than in the government as a whole.
   
Erskine May – the book of Commons procedures and rules – states that the convention here is that the government will allocate time for a no-confidence motion in the government to be debated when the official opposition tables it. This is because of the role of the official opposition as the government-in-waiting and the privileged position it holds in procedural terms as a result. But that doesn’t mean the same applies to a vote of confidence in the prime minister. So Corbyn may need to wait until an opposition day, when he can set the agenda, to hold his debate. Only 20 such days are scheduled per year, and there were none left in 2018.
   
Corbyn himself has said that he is simply trying to pressure the prime minister into bringing the vote on the Brexit deal (currently scheduled for January) forward, allowing MPs to vote on it before Christmas. So it’s less about expressing no confidence and trying to bring down the government and more about trying to exert some control over parliamentary events.

   
In response to the motion put forward by Jeremy Corbyn, the smaller opposition parties expressed their frustration that the motion had not been worded in such a way as to create a binding motion under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. They tabled an amendment to it, replacing “prime minister” with “HM government” and thus creating the required wording.
   
But this is only an amendment, and cannot be debated until the Corbyn motion itself is given time on the floor of the House of Commons. With the government still unwilling to grant this time at present, it looks likely to sit around for some time.As the debacle continued into December 18, one Scottish National Party (SNP) MP called for a motion of no confidence in the opposition for making a mess of its own motion of no confidence. This is more of a parliamentary stunt than a formal call for a no-confidence motion – and it is not the first time the SNP has questioned whether Labour is the correct official opposition party. But it shows the growing tension between Labour and the other opposition parties and the growing weariness with Corbyn’s cautious approach.
   
A formal vote of no confidence in the government could still be tabled – and there is clearly support for this from the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. But the onus remains on Corbyn and the official opposition to be the ones to table it.However, Dr. Dayo Ayoade of the department of Jurisprudence and International Law of the University of Lagos said Britain is now a highly divided society on account of the issue and the divided opinion between the “Brexiters” and the “remainers.”
   
This he said, it would have a severe repercussion for national unity and whether Scotland, England, Northern Island and Wales would remain together. “A lot of people feel betrayed, mostly among those who want to leave and those who want to stay. Those who want to stay feels that so many immigrants are ruining the country, although those who want to stay don’t believe that Brexit is the solution,” he said, adding that so many lies have been told about the issue because it is very difficult to negotiate out of EU due to complex constitutional issues.
   
Dr. Gbadabo Olagunju, an associate professor in Jurisprudence and international law of the Lagos State University, Ojo pointed out that one of the major lessons Nigerians can learn in the whole episode is about the Supremacy of the party. He noted that May was not personally in support of the exit but had to buckle when her party decided against her wish.
   
“Theresa May was not in support at the beginning, but because she has to support her own party, she dumped her personal view to toe party line. Why they are having this problem now is because they carried certain things too far,” he stated.On Tuesday, MPs voted by 432 votes to 202 to reject Brexit deal, which sets out the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU on 29 March. The 230 rejections were actually the largest defeat for a sitting government in history.

The vote was originally due to take place in December last year, but Mrs May delayed it to try and win the support of more MPs. The defeat is a huge blow to Mrs May, who has spent more than two years hammering out a deal with the EU.

The UK is still on course to leave on 29 March, but the defeat throws the manner of that departure and the timing of it into further doubt.A day after Brexit deal vote, May survived a no-confidence vote flagged by opposition Corbyn. The PM saw off the bid to remove her government from power by 325 to 306 votes. The margin of 19 votes was from the backing of 10 members of DUP. Had they switched allegiance, the government would have lost by one vote.

MPs who want either a further referendum, softer version of Brexit proposed by May, to stop Brexit altogether or to leave without a deal, will ramp up their efforts to get what they want, as weakened PM offered to listen to their arguments.However, opposition Corbyn asked Labour MPs through a letter not to engage with the government until the threat of “no deal” is removed. The vast majority of them seem to be complying, but Hillary Benn and Yvotte Cooper, who both chair select committees, and John Mann, the Brexiter, have been in to speak to the government.

Asked about their actions, a Labour source said that Corbyn’s letter was “just a request” and that Labour MPs had been very vocal in rejecting no deal.Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised by Tony Blair after the Labour leader rejected an invitation from Theresa May to take part in talks to break the Brexit impasse.


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