snapshots

May 22, 2019 | 20:21 GMT

4 mins read

U.K.: Why Everyone Hates May's Latest Brexit Bid

(Stratfor)
The Big Picture

In previous forecasts, Stratfor noted that the British government would have a difficult time getting its Brexit deal approved — opening the door for delays in the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union, as well as changes in its government. Recent events now suggest that London's political crisis will only intensify in the weeks ahead.

What Happened

The British government's attempt to make its Brexit deal an easier pill for parliamentarians to swallow seems to be doing the exact opposite. A day after announcing some of the proposals that will be included in the withdrawal agreement bill (WAB), Prime Minister Theresa May said on May 22 that the full text of the bill would be revealed on May 24. May also confirmed her intention of putting the package of legislation that would enforce the exit deal (which London negotiated with Brussels last year) to a vote in the first week of June. But while the WAB includes proposals that are seemingly designed to win bipartisan support, many members of both May's Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party have already promised to vote against it.

Why It Matters

In an appeal to Labour members of Parliament, the WAB pledges that the United Kingdom's environmental standards, as well as the rights of U.K. workers, would not fall behind those granted by the European Union after Brexit. The bill also promises to require the British government to seek alternative solutions to keep its border with Ireland open to avoid enforcing the controversial Irish backstop — a claim meant to win over members of both the Conservative Party and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). But perhaps most notably, the WAB would allow members of Parliament to vote on whether they want to negotiate a temporary customs arrangement with the European Union, as well as to vote on whether they want to put the Brexit deal to a confirmatory referendum.

The British government's latest attempt to make its Brexit deal an easier pill for parliamentarians to swallow seems to be having the opposite effect.

However, despite their intentions, these proposals have subsequently irked many members of Parliament across the political spectrum. Ireland's DUP has argued that the WAB still keeps the Irish backstop as the default Brexit outcome should a better solution not be found. Meanwhile, the temporary customs union that May is promising doesn't go far enough for Labor Party members, who want a permanent arrangement. At the same time, it goes too far for hard-line Conservatives, who remain staunchly opposed to any kind of customs union. Likewise, Labour members want a larger referendum on the United Kingdom's EU membership, and not just one on May's exit deal, while most Conservatives are against any referendum whatsoever. As a result, the Labour Party has officially announced that it will vote against the WAB, while some Conservative members of Parliament — who voted in favor of the government in the past — have now said they will oppose the latest bill as well.

What Happens Next

A vote against the WAB in June would accelerate May's resignation and kick off the process to appoint a new Conservative leader. May has already promised to resign, though she has yet to announce a specific date. However, some of May's rivals within the Conservative Party have called for the British leader to step down immediately, and for the vote on the WAB to be aborted. Such a defeat, or the cancelation of the vote, would likely be the final straw for May and precipitate her departure. While her resignation would add more uncertainty to the Brexit drama, it would also mean that a new government would have to be appointed before any crucial decisions are made — thus kicking the can of a no-deal Brexit even further down the road. 

Of course, there's still a chance the House of Commons could end up approving the WAB in June — in which case, an orderly Brexit would ensue shortly thereafter. The document would still need approval from the House of Lords, which could propose some changes and delay the ratification process. But a victory on the WAB would nonetheless pave the way for May's deal being accepted. However, considering the initial reactions to May's announcements, it seems more likely that the government will face yet another defeat in the coming weeks.

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