United Kingdom: Is there a way out of Brexit?
“There are still forces at work seeking to stop Brexit happening,” said The Sunday Telegraph (U.K.) in an editorial. Fifteen lawmakers with the ruling Conservative Party say they won’t vote for the massive European Union Withdrawal Bill—which aims to ensure that EU law will no longer apply in Britain after it quits the bloc—if the exact date and time of Brexit is written into it. While they claim to support the Leave effort, these “mutineers” would surely “be delighted if the current political instability resulted in the U.K. remaining inside the bloc.” Their sentiment is profoundly antidemocratic. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 52 percent of voters said they wanted out of the EU, and all lawmakers “are obliged” to implement the will of the people.
Wrong, said George Eaton in The New Statesman. The facts “have changed dramatically” since the referendum, and the British people can’t be forced to go through with a commitment they were duped into making. The economy has slowed as businesses fear loss of access to the EU single market. And the main benefit of Brexit, that the U.K. would save $460 million a week in EU membership dues that could then be spent on the National Health Service, has been revealed to be a lie. There is a path forward. Pro-Remain lawmakers have threatened not to support the withdrawal bill unless the government agrees to put the final Brexit deal to a parliamentary vote in autumn 2018. If Parliament rejects the terms, Prime Minister Theresa May or her successor “could seek refuge in a second referendum.”
But it would “take a political earthquake to reverse Brexit,” said Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. While a plurality of 47 percent of voters now believe the U.K. was wrong to vote Leave, only 14 percent of voters say that Brexit should therefore be stopped. Most British people want a “soft Brexit,” with “yes to open borders and open trade; yes to reasonably free movement; no to ‘unnecessary’ regulation and to ‘unfair’ access by foreigners to state welfare.” Had May been a strong leader, she could have made the case for some compromise arrangement, like Norway’s association agreement with the EU. Instead, she has acted as though anyone who opposes the most radical Brexit option is a traitor, and that has “driven both sides to the extremes.”
May hasn’t even negotiated the first step of the exit, said Torsten Riecke in Handelsblatt (Germany). She must settle the U.K.’s $71 billion EU divorce bill by early December—money owed to the bloc for prior financial commitments made by Britain—if trade negotiations are to start in time. Yet she’s only prepared to pay a meager $48 billion. If no progress is made, global financial giants will assume that “the worst-case scenario” of a no-deal Brexit is likely, and move their headquarters out of London. Perhaps that shock “could finally tear the British out of their ideologically riven parallel universe, and their common sense could return.” ■