The EU has agreed to allow the UK to extend the Brexit deadline. Theresa May sought to have it extended until 30th June. However, with European Parliamentary elections due to be held on the 23rd of May. The UK has expressly reaffirmed its intent not to take part in these elections. Hence, the extension is only until the 22nd of May. This extension is subject to the British Parliament’s acceptance of their PM’s deal. If Parliament accepts Theresa May’s deal that has been agreed with the EU by April 12th, the extension will be granted until 22nd of May. If they do not accept their PM’s deal, they may exit with no deal on April 12th.
President of the EU Council Donald Tusk explained that all Brexit options are still on the table until the April 12th deadline, including the possibility of the Brexit being scrapped altogether. Although, the UK is stubbornly refusing to consider all available options as Theresa May stated that a ‘clear choice has emerged for British lawmakers’. They must support her Brexit deal and leave the EU on May 22nd having ample time to iron out the details of the exit, or they will crash out of the EU with no deal on April 12th. Goldman Sachs has reported that the chances of a no deal Brexit have increased from 5 to 15 per cent.
The British Parliament has overwhelmingly rejected May’s deal twice in the past few weeks, one of which was the heaviest parliamentary defeat of a British PM in the democratic era. Speaker John Bercow announced that she will not be able to bring the same deal back to the table in Parliament with it being ‘substantially different, not in words but in substance’. Additionally, during her national address last Wednesday, she hit out at Parliament for their failure to ensure a timely Brexit departure. It was interpreted as a ‘low blow’, a desperate attempt to garner public support heading into a politically tumultuous few months. She stated that ‘MP’s have been unable to agree on a way to implement the UK’s withdrawal’ and reassured to the voter’s that she is ‘on their side’. These comments displayed a lack of leadership and accountability, as leader of Parliament, she must shoulder some of the blame for the shambles that Brexit has evolved into. The comments also damaged her fragile relationship with MP’s, some of whom reacted angrily referring to May as ‘disgraceful’ and ‘toxic’. It remains difficult to see how the British PM will be successful in pushing her deal through Parliament by the April deadline.
The European Court of Justice decided in December that the UK could revoke Article 50 unilaterally. However, Theresa May has stated that she feels this would go ‘against the will of the people’ as they voted to leave the EU nearly three years ago. Whilst Theresa May emphasised the long wait that the British people have had to endure for Brexit, this brings into question whether it was so long as to change the minds of the British people?
In 2017, Theresa May called a snap election in an attempt to further her power and authority in the house of Parliament. Despite, repeatedly denying that she would call a snap election, May justified the move by explaining that ‘unity’ was required ‘to make a success of Brexit’. As she only held a meagre 17-seat majority prior to the snap election, she felt that holding an election would give her ample opportunity to consolidate her delicate power in Parliament. The move backfired as she ended up with a minority government, with less unity and consequently less ‘ability to make a success of Brexit’. Whilst, May interpreted the election results as the public reaffirming their belief in Brexit. It could be interpreted as a step away from it. Instead of clutching at straws, trying to depict what the public’s view on Brexit was from the result of a snap general election May should ask the people directly.
Nonetheless, with the previous general election having occurred in 2015, this displays that (when it appears to suit her to do so) May believes that the British citizens’ minds can change within a 2-year period. The Labour Party seem to have similar views as they recently called for a vote of no confidence which was 2 years after the last general election. Both the government and the main opposition party have set a precedent that they believe the minds of the British public can change within 2 years of a previous general election. Therefore, why couldn’t they agree that the public could change their minds on Brexit within a longer time period?
Thousands of protestors marched in London on Saturday in a sign of anger against the looming departure from the EU. A petition to cancel Brexit has gained over 4.2 million signatures on Parliament’s website as of Saturday 23rd March. Although the likelihood of convincing the government to hold another People’s vote, it appears to not deter the public from voicing their opinion.
The margin of victory for Brexit was a mere 4% in 2016. The NY Times has expressed that ‘Many polls show that Britons have now gone from mostly thinking that Britain was right to leave Europe after the referendum to mostly thinking the opposite.’ A second referendum could occur giving the public a choice between the PM’s exit deal and remaining in the EU. A referendum could also be held with the additional option of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. It remains to be seen over the next few weeks if the government will listen to their people, or continue to place politics over them, brushing their opinions aside as they pretend to be ‘on their side’. As the Brexit debacle elongates, all other political issues and debates stagnate.
Update: Since the printing of this article, MPs have voted against May’s deal for a third time and across two days of indicative votes, rejected every single alternative Brexit plan proposed.
By Peter Hoy – Politics CoEditor