British Prime Minister Theresa May predictably won last week’s no confidence vote instigated by the opposition. But that victory did not take the European country a step away from the crossroads where it is stuck two years after it voted in a referendum to quit the European Union. The narrow win of 325 votes to 306 votes still leaves May between a rock and a hard place, as her draft deal with the EU is rejected on all fronts. The British are in a race against time as the clock ticks away, racing toward the March 29, 2019 deadline for UK’s exit from the European Union.
After her victory, May promised to hold talks with leaders of the opposition parties and other lawmakers in order to find a way forward on Britain’s exit from the EU. She called on politicians to put self-interest aside and come to a consensus on how to actualize the letter and spirit of the referendum, which is to pull Britain out of the EU.
Propelled by right wing elements and politicians, the referendum was meant to enable Britain take charge of its territory, and primarily secure it from migrants from Turkey, or those who entered the UK through Turkey. Under the EU agreement, there is freedom of trade – to facilitate the movement of goods and services under its customs union. But a twin brother to this policy is the free movement of EU citizens from one European country to another. Apparently, Brexit is meant to halt this free movement.
As it stands now, many skeptics foresee disaster for the UK if there is no deal to keep the country in the EU customs union. At the moment, there are three positions on this dilemma. There are the ‘No Deal,’ ‘Soft Deal’ and ‘Remain’ options. The ‘No Deal’ proponents insist that Britain does not need to negotiate common customs union with the EU, but should rather engage in bilateral trade deals with other countries, based on its own tariff and foreign trade policies. Under such circumstances, Britain could engage in trade with the United States, China, and other countries in Europe, Asia and Africa in order to maximize benefit.
The ‘Soft Deal’ proponents, among them the Prime Minister, insist that a new and comprehensive customs union with the EU is possible to ensure frictionless trade with British’s closest neighbours. A seamless trade with neighbours which would guarantee free movement of goods produced in the UK to other EU countries under a common tariff may be a low hanging economic opportunity than trade deals with far-flung countries such as China, Japan and even the United States. In their business deals with UK, these neighbouring EU countries would not have to worry about expensive and complicated rules of origin that guard trade relations with other countries. But soft Brexit would defeat one of the objectives of the referendum, which is to assert UK’s independence. With soft Brexit, Britain would have to abide by common commercial policy put in place by EU member states at their headquarters in Brussels. The last – Remain option – would require that Britain eats the humble pie by renouncing Brexit, so that it continues to operate within the EU.
Apparently, British politicians are engaged in street-fighting though they seem not to be sure of the right steps to take. Brexit was a courageous move by the people to assert the independence of the United Kingdom. However, if the political class does not agree on how to manage the golden prize, it may be necessary for them to return to the people for a second referendum on the way forward, especially now that the consequences of a no deal Brexit may be a crushing economic disaster. And this should be done quickly before March 29 Brexit deadline.