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London, UK: Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government loses a historic vote in the UK House of Commons on her cherished (and reworked) Withdrawal Agreement by a vote of 391-242, a margin of 149 votes.
History: On January 23, 2016 an historic vote was held where 52% of those Britons who cared to show up at the polls, voted to Leave the European Union. They didn’t vote for a complicated Withdrawal Agreement, nor did they vote for a high-sounding, but non-legally binding Political Declaration.
Britons voted to Leave the EU. Nothing more, nothing less. They didn’t vote for a Withdrawal Agreement, nor did they vote for a Political Declaration.
Subsequent to the EU referendum, the UK held a General Election in June of 2017 where all UK political parties as part of their party platform supported Brexit. Not one party ran on an anti-Brexit platform. And no surprise there, as each party was simply mirroring the will of The People since the June 2016 EU referendum.
Since that time, Prime Minister Theresa May and EU negotiators have been attempting to agree a deal for the UK to leave the European Union over-and-above the simple wishes of the UK electorate and that proposed deal has become known as the EU Withdrawal Agreement.
That’s the deal that was voted down in the House of Commons in January 2019 by a historic margin of 230 votes. Never in British history had a bill been so resoundingly defeated.
Now that same bill with minor changes has been voted down by British MP’s by a healthy 149 votes.
I suspect that much of the failure of this latest iteration of the bill was because MP’s had only a few hours to study the reworked (and incredibly complex) Withdrawal Agreement, as Theresa May presented the new version less than one day before it was up for a Parliamentary vote. Très gauche, Theresa!
Near-Term Parliamentary Process: Tomorrow (March 13, 2019) MP’s will vote on the so-called ‘No Deal’ scenario and on March 14th they will vote on whether the UK should go to the EU (cap in hand) to ask for an Article 50 extension — to give more time to UK and EU negotiators to come up with a deal — notwithstanding that 2.5 years hasn’t been long enough and notwithstanding that not one single issue will have changed in the meantime, and the EU is under no obligation whatsoever to accept an Article 50 extension.
Let me repeat that statement; If an Article 50 extension is requested by the UK, the EU is under no obligation to accede to that request, nor will any issue have changed (nor the opinions behind them) in the meantime. Therefore, what exactly would be the point of the UK applying for, or the EU accepting, an Article 50 extension?
See? There’s no logical reason to extend the Article 50 deadline.
And from the point of view of UK voters, an Article 50 extension would reward mediocrity — the kind of mediocrity that is represented by 2.5 years of limp-wristed and on-again-off-again negotiating that doesn’t deserve another chance.
What Would Margaret Thatcher Do?
Anyone who saw how Margaret Thatcher operated would know that she wouldn’t have done the EU dance, allowing them to call the tune every step of the way.
For tomorrow’s vote, Maggie would’ve simply whipped her MP’s to vote for a ‘No Deal’ Brexit — and that would be the end of the present 2.5 year-long period of economic uncertainty — and it by far would be the best thing for the UK economy and for Britons wondering where all this unguided or lightly guided Brexit will end-up.
Sometimes, You Have to Do the Smartest Thing – Which Can Sometimes be the (Temporarily) Unpopular Thing
And that’s what Theresa May hasn’t yet learned.
Margaret Thatcher, on the other hand, learned over her long career that no matter what promises have been made, no matter how uncomfortable the short-term might be, no matter the (short-term) howls of protest, senior politicians must stand up and do what’s best for the country, and do it with a sense of urgency and purpose.
And what’s best for the UK at this moment in history is for Theresa May to ‘whip’ her MP’s tomorrow to support an automatic ‘No Deal’ Brexit and just get Brexit done and dusted — thereby putting a definite and permanent end to the present economic uncertainty.
Her detractors will say, ‘Yes, but Theresa May is no Margaret Thatcher!’ and whatever else anyone ever said about her, Maggie commanded a high degree of respect from her political friends and enemies due to her having the courage to always and without fail do ‘the right thing’ as she saw it — no matter the obstacles.
If Prime Minister Theresa May can summon her inner Margaret Thatcher tonight and direct her Parliamentary whips to force every Conservative MP to vote FOR a ‘No Deal’ Brexit tomorrow, all the uncertainty building in the UK economy would dissipate within a matter of days. And Britons and UK stakeholders could get on with the job of making Brexit Britain an astonishing success story and the EU could concentrate on its internal problems. Phew!
It would be the defining moment of Theresa May’s premiership.
The entire world would thank the Prime Minister and breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, even in Brussels!
Small numbers of Remainers might complain for a few days, but on the whole, being decisive now would solve more problems than continuing along the present course.
Can Theresa May (BPE) the Bureaucrat Par-Excellence make the switch to Theresa May (PPE) Politician Par-Excellence and be the politician that’s so desperately needed at this crucial moment in Britain’s history?
We’ll soon know.
The UK’s draft Withdrawal Agreement is a fine agreement except that it lacks in one key area; The so-called ‘backstop’ portion of the agreement which has no end-date. It’s a major flaw in the draft and it must be removed.
The backstop means that if the UK and the EU don’t reach a free trade deal in 2019 the UK will be stuck in the EU Customs Union forever, and will never be able to negotiate its own trade deals. And the opportunity to take back control of the UK’s trading relationships was one of four main reasons that Britons voted to Leave the European Union.
Remember the four metrics of Brexit success?
- Take back control of the UK’s borders and immigration
- Take back control of the UK legal system
- Take back control of the UK economy
- Take back control of UK trade
In the so-called ‘Political Declaration’ between the two parties there is reference to the backstop which states that it’s expected a free trade agreement will eventually be worked out between the two sides — neatly solving the problem of the backstop clause.
But as they’ve had 2 1/2 years to work these issues out and still haven’t (not even close) it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence and voters on both sides of the English Channel are entitled to better service from their politicians than that. CEO’s must be wondering, too. Much of the EU’s trade is with the UK and 2 1/2 years later, no free trade agreement is in sight even though the UK is leaving the European Union on March 29, 2019. Very disappointing.
And Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk’s replacements can choose to be bound by, or not be bound by the non binding Political Declaration as both of those EU leaders step down after May 26, 2019 to make room for newly appointed EC and EU Presidents. We don’t know who those new leaders will be, nor do we know how they view the draft Withdrawal Agreement, nor do we know if they’ll give two hoots about what the non legally binding Political Declaration says. (If I were them, I wouldn’t either!)
How to Fix It
If the draft Withdrawal Agreement fails to pass in the House of Commons tomorrow (as expected) Britons can breathe a sigh of relief because almost certainly the backstop clause will be removed in time to get an amended Withdrawal Agreement passed in the House of Commons before Brexit day on March 29, 2019.
And one reason we can count on that is the EU operates a stunning £95 billion trade surplus with the UK (£67 billion net) and without a free trade agreement, businesses on both sides will suffer greatly. When there’s £95 billion on the line you can bet CEO’s will pressure their respective governments and a trade deal will happen quickly! Or heads will roll.
For goodness sake, it’s a trade agreement between two nations that have traded with each other for centuries! It’s not like the Klingons and the Romulans opening trade relations! How hard can it be?
The way to fix this situation is for British MP’s to vote down the draft Withdrawal Agreement tomorrow and encourage CEO’s on both sides of the Channel to put significant pressure on Theresa May, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk until they get their jobs done properly which is what they should’ve been doing all along.
Doing their jobs properly — even if it’s already a year late and counting — means removing the backstop completely, or inserting a firm end date for Customs Union membership and getting a free trade deal done by July 1, 2019.
Any level of success lower than that should be considered unacceptable by citizens, by European industry, and by any country that trades with the UK or the EU.