May battles to keep Brexit on track after no-confidence win
By JILL LAWLESS and GREGORY KATZ
Thursday, January 17
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May was consulting opposition parties and other lawmakers Thursday in a battle to put Brexit back on track after surviving a no-confidence vote, though there was little immediate sign of a breakthrough from talks branded a “stunt” by the main opposition leader.
European Union countries were stepping up preparations for a disorderly British exit on March 29 after the U.K. Parliament rejected May’s Brexit withdrawal deal with the bloc.
Lawmakers threw out the deal Tuesday, in a crushing defeat for May, who suffered the worst parliamentary defeat in modern British history.
The drubbing was followed by a no-confidence vote in the government, but May’s minority Conservative government survived it on Wednesday night with backing from its Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party.
May said she would hold talks “in a constructive spirit” with leaders of opposition parties and other lawmakers in a bid to find a way forward for Britain’s EU exit.
The government confirmed that May will meet a Monday deadline to publish a Plan B, and that lawmakers will have a full day to debate it — and, crucially, amend it — on Jan. 29.
There was little sign of a breakthrough in uniting Parliament’s feuding Brexit factions, whose conflicting demands range from a postponement of Britain’s departure date to a new referendum on whether to leave the EU or remain.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said he wouldn’t meet with May until she took a no-deal Brexit “off the table.”
“To get a deal that can command a majority in Parliament, Theresa May has to ditch the red lines and get serious about proposals for the future,” Corbyn said during a speech to supporters in the English seaside town of Hastings.
“Last night’s offer of talks with party leaders turned out to be simply a stunt, not the serious attempt to engage with the new reality that’s needed,” he said.
Green Party lawmaker Caroline Lucas, who met with May on Thursday morning, said the prime minister was “in a fantasy world” if she thought the deal could be transformed by Monday.
“Parliament is gridlocked,” she said.
May so far has showed little inclination to make major changes to her deal or lift her insistence that Brexit means leaving the EU’s single market and customs union. Many lawmakers think a softer departure that retained single market or customs union membership is the only plan capable of winning a majority in Parliament. They fear the alternative is an abrupt “no-deal” withdrawal from the bloc, which businesses and economists fear would cause turmoil.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, a longtime Labour Party leader, told the BBC on Thursday that it would be “sensible” for Corbyn to meet with May to better define the type of Brexit that Britain wants. He warned that a “no-deal” Brexit would do substantial harm to Britain’s economy.
As Britain flounders, the 27 other EU countries have stood firm, saying they won’t renegotiate the withdrawal agreement and insisting the British government and its lawmakers to decide what they want to do.
Some British lawmakers want May to call for an extension of negotiations with the EU and postpone the March 29 deadline to leave the bloc, while others are lobbying for a second Brexit referendum.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe held a special government meeting Thursday on planning to cope with a “no-deal” Brexit.
The French parliament adopted a law Wednesday allowing emergency measures after March 30 in the event Britain leaves without a deal.
Such measures could aim to reduce problems in cross-border trade and transport, notably through the Eurotunnel beneath the English Channel, and allow British workers and retirees based in France temporary permission to stay until a longer-term deal is worked out.
Throughout the Brexit negotiations, EU leaders accused Britain of trying to “cherry pick” benefits of membership in the bloc, seeking to retain access to the EU’s single market while ending the free movement of European citizens into Britain and breaching other EU guiding principles.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who said Wednesday that he was more concerned than ever that Britain could crash out of the EU without an agreement, said the red lines set out by Britain’s negotiators had “shut doors.”
Barnier said Thursday that “getting an agreement is in everybody’s interest” and that “something has to change” to secure a divorce deal.
“If (the red lines) change, we’ll change,” Barnier said after meeting Portuguese officials in Lisbon.
Frank Griffiths in London, Angela Charlton in Paris, and Barry Hatton, in Lisbon, Portugal, contributed to this report.
Brexit: An ‘escape room’ with no escape
January 16, 2019
Author: Terrence Guay is a Friend of The Conversation. Clinical Professor of International Business, Pennsylvania State University
Disclosure statement: Terrence Guay has received funding from the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute for three prior research projects.
Partners: Pennsylvania State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Brexit is beginning to look a lot like an “escape room” with no exit.
An escape room is an increasingly popular adventure game that requires participants to solve a series of puzzles before they can leave the room and advance into another one with additional riddles.
Brexit now seems to be a riddle that can’t be solved, after U.K. lawmakers voted down Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to leave the European Union. This means there’s no way to “win,” yet no clear way to end the game that began with a 2016 referendum.
That’s bad news for the British. But based on my research on international business, that’s bad news for U.S. businesses and the “special relationship” between the two countries as well.
This decades-long relationship, based on common values and similar views on global issues, has been weakened by President Donald Trump and will deteriorate further without a post-Brexit plan.
The Brexit puzzle
The first escape room was relatively easy to solve, consisting of just one puzzle: leave or remain.
In June 2016, British citizens narrowly voted to exit the union it joined in 1973, which moved the U.K. into the next room.
The second one was more complicated, since it required the U.K. to resolve domestic divisions over Brexit. Citizens who wished to remain – majorities in London, Scotland and Northern Island – refused to participate in the game any further, other than to urge fellow players to return to the first room and answer that puzzle differently by holding another referendum.
The remaining participants, specifically the majority Conservative Party led by May, started fighting among themselves while trying to solve the puzzle of what the U.K. wanted from Brexit.
This room took the longest time to leave – over two years – since it required specific and lengthy negotiations on the terms of Brexit with the EU. Having reached an agreement, the prime minister stumbled out of this room in November with her supporters and presented the plan to Parliament.
No road map for US business
That plan went down in a stunning defeat on Jan. 15 – May lost 432-202 in the biggest upset in parliamentary history – putting the U.K. in uncharted territory.
Opponents are pushing for new elections or another referendum – back to the first room – while May’s own party is discussing ways for Parliament to take control of Brexit. And the EU says the deal cannot be renegotiated before the March 29 deadline.
Back in June 2016, before the referendum, I explained why Americans should care about the vote’s outcome, in part because Brexit would hurt U.S.-U.K. trade and investment. But it is clear to me now that the impact will extend beyond business to the essence of the “special relationship” between the two countries.
U.S. companies still have no road map for how to proceed. Uncertainty reigns on tariffs, regulations, whether to locate staff in the U.K. versus Europe and countless more business-related issues.
Business hates uncertainty. Foreign investment in the U.K. has already dropped 19 percent over the past two years as companies have been wary to invest in or expand their operations. Banks and other American companies seem more interested in closer ties to the EU’s single market than doing business in the U.K.
This disinvestment is likely to accelerate following the failed vote in Parliament. Sadly, it looks like Brexit is a game without a winner or, at this point, any obvious way of quitting.
Alex Popkin, logged in via Facebook: I think everyone would agree that the Brexit negotiations have displayed monumental incompetence from Britain’s leadership class.
The purpose of government is to protect the rights and freedoms of the people. EU membership was a clear threat to British democracy, independence, and civil liberties. The British people were right to vote themselves out.
The purpose of government is not to do what’s best for big businesses. For all that, in the long run Brexit will be good for business unless it gets sabotaged with a second referendum.
Recall that before the vote in 2016, all the very smart experts told us voting Leave would be an economic disaster. The British people voted Leave anyway. There were a few days of turmoil in the markets, but after that the stock market soared upwards, unemployment went down, inflation and interest rates remained tame, and the promised disaster never arrive. In other words, the very smart experts were completely wrong, and all the dumb working class blokes were right instead.
If the government has enough courage to go through with a “hard Brexit”, history will repeat. A short period of stock market turmoil, but after that things will go well once again. The economy will prosper once Britain is free from the suffocating economic regulation of Brussels, and the experts who predicted disaster will change the subject rather than admitting that they were wrong.
Airports, customs, trade: Europe preps for a chaotic Brexit
By ANGELA CHARLTON
Thursday, January 17
PARIS (AP) — One by one, European Union nations are spending millions, hiring thousands of workers and issuing emergency decrees to cope with the increasingly likely possibility that Britain will leave the bloc on March 29 without a plan.
A no-deal Brexit would shake up the rest of the continent in ways that many Europeans haven’t even fathomed.
France is spending 50 million euros ($57 million) to beef up security at airports and the Eurotunnel and hiring hundreds of extra customs officers.
Portugal is opening special airport lanes for British travelers, the nation’s main source of tourists. Germany is fast-tracking a debate on solving bureaucratic problems if there is no Brexit deal.
Governments from the Netherlands to Romania and the Czech Republic are preparing rules for British citizens to live and work in their countries once they no longer enjoy EU residency rights — and expecting that Britain is doing the same for their citizens.
Britain, which would face by far the biggest disruption, has devoted thousands of civil servants and several billion pounds (dollars) on measures to mitigate the worst effect — although officials can only speculate about what will actually happen on March 30 if Brexit happens without a deal.
After the British parliament overwhelmingly rejected British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit divorce deal this week, other European governments are now bracing for chaos too.
“We strongly believe” Britain will leave with no exit deal, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Thursday, unveiling a raft of emergency measures to cope with that prospect. “Under these conditions, our responsibility … is to ensure that our country is ready, that the interests of our citizens are preserved and defended.”
The French government will hire nearly 600 extra customs officers and veterinary inspectors and invest in new infrastructure at airports and ports, all to be in working order by March 30.
Special security measures will be put in place for the tunnel beneath the English Channel. The company that operates the Eurotunnel says a quarter of all U.K.-EU trade passes through the tunnel, which could be a major chokepoint in a no-deal Brexit.
France’s emergency decrees will allow British workers and retirees living in France to continue staying there for a year after March 29 — but only if the British government agrees to do the same for French citizens in the U.K.
The decrees will temporarily let British companies transport goods in France, and allow certain British insurance and other financial activities to continue in France despite Britain’s loss of access to the EU financial market. The exceptional transfer of military equipment between the two countries will also be allowed.
In Berlin, German lawmakers debated a bill Thursday that aims to solve bureaucratic issues arising from Brexit.
“We want to keep the damage — and there will certainly be damage from Britain’s departure — as small as possible,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday. “That’s why we will of course do everything to find an orderly solution, but we are also prepared if there is no orderly solution.”
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said 80 percent of British tourists arrive at airports in Faro, the Algarve and Funchal in the Madeira Islands, where dedicated lines for them will help prevent delays.
Romanian leaders have sought to reassure the estimated half a million Romanians living in Britain that they won’t be left in the lurch — but haven’t provided specifics. Romania currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia are working on legislation to deal with the short term rights of British citizens in a no-deal Brexit, while the Dutch will let British citizens living in the country remain for 15 months and offer them the chance to apply for residency permits.
In Britain, the government has begun to recruit hundreds of extra customs officers and border staff and has passed laws to help cross-border trade continue to flow, such as permits for long-distance truckers. Britain says EU citizens will be able to stay temporarily despite a no-deal Brexit.
A high-level EU official is now touring all the capitals of the bloc’s 27 nations other than Britain to assess Brexit preparations and provide help where it is needed, EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Thursday.
The EU has produced 88 notices how specific sectors should deal with possible Brexit emergencies.
“We’re not taking any chances,” said Schinas.
Jill Lawless in London, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Raf Casert in Brussels, Mike Corder in The Hague, Alison Mutler in Romania and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed.
Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
Brexit: Theresa May survives confidence vote, but Brussels is in charge now
January 16, 2019
Author: Chris Stafford, Doctoral Researcher, University of Nottingham
Disclosure statement: Chris Stafford does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Nottingham provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.
Just 24 hours after suffering a historic defeat in parliament over her Brexit deal, the prime minister has survived a vote of no confidence in her government – thanks to the support of her backbench MPs. Up until this point, these same backbench MPs have been all too willing to vote against her and her Brexit deal.
The result was expected, given that a Conservative rebellion would have likely resulted in a general election that might have gone very badly for the party. Ousting the prime minister is less appealing when, instead of offering the potential for career advancement, there is a strong chance that it would instead lead to a demotion to the shadow cabinet.
With the very public plotting and scheming that has been displayed over Brexit, it is little wonder that British people have become profoundly mistrustful of their elected representatives and their motivations. What happens next is therefore crucial not only for the prime minister and the country, but also the public’s faith in the nation’s democracy.
The way forward is not clear and many in the EU would like to know just what it is the UK actually wants. In an attempt to find out, May has promised to consult with leading parliamentarians over the way forward. She has been criticised for not doing this sooner and, while it could perhaps throw up a fresh idea to move things forward, it is hard to see what assurances the prime minister or the European Union can give that would placate anyone.
Re-open the negotiations?
Realistically speaking the only way to get the major changes on the controversial issues would be to re-open Brexit negotiations with the European Union and extend the article 50 period. While there is some support for the latter, the former has not been an acceptable option on the continent for some time now. That doesn’t appear likely to change.
Many prominent hard Brexit supporters have suggested that parliament’s dismissal of the deal will put the EU under pressure. They think Brussels will come back to the negotiating table once the screws are turned. But, as things stand, this looks like misplaced bravado and even wishful thinking.
To suggest that the defeat of the deal in parliament will somehow force the EU to waver is a perfect display of the flawed logic that created this situation in the first place. While the prospect of a no-deal Brexit is of course concerning to them, the remaining EU member states are prepared to weather the storm of a no-deal if they must. They would rather not have to, but if it is a choice between that or threatening the integrity of the single market and the European project itself, the choice is clear – and has been since before article 50 was even triggered.
A government cornered
Ultimately, if a new deal is well and truly off the table, there are a limited set of options the government can pursue. Brexit could be cancelled or it could be put to another referendum. Neither are likely to be popular options within the Conservative Party. More likely, it has been suggested that the government may keep making parliament vote on the deal, or some version of it, until it passes, although the legality of this is now in question. If the deal cannot get through the Commons, there may be no other option but to leave without a deal. Conservative MPs therefore need to either get behind the deal or resign themselves to endorsing a no-deal scenario.
It is also decision time for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. Having failed to win the vote of no confidence and force their preferred option of a general election, they too have to either get behind the deal or consign the country to a no-deal scenario. That said, there is of course the ever-controversial option of a second referendum. Corbyn has resisted calls for this so far – but, with mounting pressure from MPs and the membership, as well as a desperate need for some distinctiveness on Brexit between the two major parties, it may prove hard to keep voting down the prime minister’s deal without offering a viable alternative.
Parliament takes back control
Having successfully showed their desire and ability to assert themselves in the Brexit process in parliament, the MPs themselves may be the key to ending the deadlock. There is the looming threat that they will seize complete control of the issue, legislating to prevent a no-deal scenario from even being possible.
Given the historic defeat over the Brexit deal, it is not implausible that such a move could get the support it needs. However, if the EU refuses to budge on the deal or the timing of Brexit, it is again hard to see where this would ultimately lead. Despite claims that Brexit would allow the UK to “take back control”, it still seems that it is the European Union that is very much in charge of the situation.