There are now just under 100 days until the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
To celebrate this milestone, Prime Minister Theresa May has ignored calls to negotiate a better deal with the European Commission, ruled out any alternative plan, refused to consider a second referendum, maintained her line that Parliament’s “meaningful vote” on the EU/U.K.-agreed divorce should wait until 14 January (just 10 weeks before the United Kingdom is due to leave ), and allowed Members of Parliament (MP) a 17-day break while the country struggles with one of its biggest ever constitutional crises.
May—dubbed the “Maybot” because of her automaton responses and movement—has steadfastly refused to concede that Brexit may be a bad idea or that her vision of it might be duff, despite overwhelming indications that the country is going to take a serious economic hit, possibly for as long as a decade.
The Bank of England has repeatedly warned of slower growth, increased unemployment, reduced competitiveness, and a fall in GDP that could be worse than that suffered during the financial crisis if a “no deal” or disorderly separation should take place. Even her Chancellor, Philip Hammond, warned in November that all forms of Brexit will make the United Kingdom worse off (before adding that the prime minister’s plan is the best available).
May, however, has resolutely stuck to her guns. As worries have once again surfaced that the United Kingdom is likely to crash out of the single market without a deal, forecasters like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Monetary Fund have warned that such an event could lead to economic stagnation in Britain.
Remainers thought they had been handed a lifeline earlier this month when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the United Kingdom could stop Article 50 in its tracks and abandon the whole endeavour without seeking EU approval: The country could retain the status quo and carry on as normal. The ECJ said that the U.K. government could pull the plug on the venture right up until 28 March without even consulting any other EU member state.
But, after defeating a vote of “no confidence” by her own party, May has vowed to push on to deliver the Brexit that 52 percent of voters (might have) wished for. She has not emerged from such political turmoil unscathed, however: In a conciliatory move, she has agreed not to stand as Tory leader in the country’s next general election.
Two and a half years after the referendum result, most Brits are simply sick of hearing about Brexit and the fact that the country’s future is still up in the air. In fact, a new term to describe the general malaise is steadily gaining popularity: “Brexhaustion.”
Many Brits admire or sympathise with May’s plucky determination to plough on and push for U.K. politicians to accept the EU’s only deal on offer, irrespective of how bad it may be and despite the likelihood of MPs rejecting it anyway. Hardline Tory Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg want a hard Brexit, and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party—upon which May relies to maintain a Commons majority—does not want Northern Ireland to be subject to different regulations than the rest of the United Kingdom just because it has a hard border with Ireland, its EU neighbour. It is still difficult to discern what the opposition Labour Party actually wants apart from “something different.” Business, on the other hand, wants certainty; but if May’s deal is scuppered by Parliament, then it looks like companies will have to wait right until the last minute to find it—unless Brexit slips past the 29 March deadline.
Currently, if the U.K.-EU Withdrawal Agreement is ratified before 30 March 2019, EU law will cease to apply to and in the United Kingdom on 1 January 2021 after a transition period of 21 months. If the Withdrawal Agreement is not ratified before 30 March 2019, however, there will be no transition period and EU law will cease to apply to and in the United Kingdom as of 30 March 2019. This is referred to as the “no-deal” or “cliff-edge” scenario.
But given the current fractious nature of British politics, on 19 December the European Commission implemented its “no deal” contingency plan. It consists of 14 measures aimed at ensuring continuity in financial services, transport, customs, and climate policy.
These would temporarily allow flights from the United Kingdom into and overflying the European Union to be allowed for 12 months to ensure “basic connectivity;” hauliers to carry freight by road into the European Union for a nine-month period without having to apply for permits; and U.K. financial services regulations—in a limited number of areas such as derivatives trading—to be recognised as equivalent to the EU’s for one or two years. Brussels, however, adds (pointedly) that these arrangements will be strictly time-limited and will be ended without any consultation with the United Kingdom.
On the same day, the United Kingdom unveiled its skills-based immigration system, which also contains plans to allow unskilled workers to come into the country for up to a year with a visa—a measure the government hopes will still enable sectors like agriculture and hospitality to find temporary workers without allowing “freedom of movement” as guaranteed under EU membership.
Both Remainers and Brexiteers have criticised the government’s decision to call Parliamentary recess, as well as May’s calculated risk to delay MPs’ vote on her deal by a month to mid-January. Remainers feel that it simply postpones the inevitable—that May’s deal will be defeated in Parliament, and that there will be no time to find another suitable option. Brexiteers, on the other hand, can’t see the point of making a deal anyway: They just want out.
On a positive note, a two-week break from the machinations of Westminster and Brussels might be just the tonic to take some of the heat out of an increasingly divisive situation and for politicians on both sides of the House of Commons—as well as the English Channel—to reflect. Two and a half years after the referendum result, most Brits are simply sick of hearing about Brexit and the fact that the country’s future is still up in the air. In fact, a new term to describe the general malaise is steadily gaining popularity: “Brexhaustion.”
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