Theresa May’s Government Lives on—and So Does the Brexit Chaos


January 18,2019

Theresa May’s Government Lives on—and So Does the Brexit Chaos

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the other members of the government should be confined to a psychiatric hospital. Having narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday, in which a loss would almost certainly have led to a general election, May and her colleagues are now looking to resurrect her Brexit plan, or a slightly refined version of it, which was subjected to an overwhelming defeat in the Commons on Tuesday evening.

With just ten weeks until March 29th, when Britain is supposed to leave the European Union, May is hoping that the prospect of the country crashing out without any withdrawal agreement—an outcome that could cause shortages of essential medicines and industrial parts, as well as bedlam at the Channel ports—will persuade a majority of parliamentarians to back her plan as the least bad option available. Of course, this is precisely the same logic that the Prime Minister was relying on when she delayed a vote on the Brexit plan until Monday, after the New Year, and she ended up suffering what was widely described as the biggest loss ever inflicted on a sitting British Prime Minister. But, after what she has been through in the past couple of years, May can perhaps be forgiven for getting a little addled. The entire country is a little addled. More than a little.

In making the closing argument for the motion of no confidence during Wednesday’s debate, Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, was careful to acknowledge the efforts that May had already made to solve the political equivalent of Goldbach’s conjecture. “I think the country recognizes that effort,” Watson told the packed chamber. “In fact, the country feels genuinely sorry for the Prime Minister. I feel sorry for the Prime Minister. But she cannot confuse pity for political legitimacy, sympathy for sustainable support.” May’s strategy had failed utterly, Watson said, and “the cruellest truth of all is that she doesn’t possess the necessary political skills, empathy, ability, and most crucially the policy, to lead this country any longer.” The question facing the House, Watson said, was whether it is “worth giving this failed Prime Minister another chance to go back pleading to Brussels, another opportunity to humiliate the United Kingdom, another chance to waste a few weeks. The answer must be a resounding no.”

Making the closing argument for the government, Michael Gove, the minister for the environment, sought to divert attention from the humiliating setback that May had suffered, and the fact that more than a hundred Conservative M.P.s had rejected her plan. He turned his invective to Watson’s boss, Jeremy Corbyn, the leftist leader of the Labour Party, whom the Tories still view as their trump card. After noting that Watson hadn’t mentioned Corbyn during his speech, Gove, who is known at Westminster as a clever and slippery fellow, gleefully caricatured many of the Labour leader’s positions, claiming that Corbyn rejects Britain’s role in NATO and wants to get rid of the country’s nuclear deterrent. (A longtime antiwar activist, Corbyn has held these positions in the past, but official Labour policy, which Corbyn now supports, rejects them.) “No way can this country ever allow that man to be our Prime Minister,” Gove said, to loud cheers from the Conservative benches.

Since ten M.P.s from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which holds the balance of power in a narrowly divided Commons, had agreed to support the government, Gove knew that he and the Conservative government were on safe ground. But although the subsequent vote—of three hundred and twenty-five votes to three hundred and six—assured May’s survival, it merely confirmed the Brexit stalemate. A bit later in the evening, the Prime Minister emerged from 10 Downing Street to say that she had invited M.P.s from all parties to meet with her in an effort to find a way forward. Corbyn quickly rejected the offer, saying that the Labour Party wouldn’t join the talks unless May explicitly ruled out a no-deal Brexit—an option favored by some right-wing Conservative M.P.s.

So the show goes on, a very dark comedy. The hardline Conservative Brexiteers, led by the faux aristocrat Jacob Rees-Mogg, are encouraged because they have defeated May’s plan, and they know the default position is that Britain will crash out on March 29th.

Like a First World War general, May is soldiering ahead. Corbyn, relieved for now of the alarming prospect of having to step into May’s shoes, still says that he wants to honor the result of the referendum—in which many working-class, Labour-supporting areas voted Leave—but also to negotiate a better exit deal. (How he’d manage this, he hasn’t said.) But many Labour Party members—a large majority of them, according to recent polls—want to stay in the E.U., and seventy-one Labour M.P.s have now expressed support for the People’s Vote campaign, which is advocating a second referendum. In the coming days, Corbyn will face strong pressure to clarify his position and commit to another referendum.

 

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How and when will it all end? On Thursday, the government announced that Parliament would debate and vote on May’s “Plan B” on Tuesday, January 29th. M.P.s who spoke with the Prime Minister said that she still thinks she can tweak her deal and win, but few people outside of Downing Street believe it. The E.U. has ruled out making any more significant concessions. Both major parties are horribly split. And when the pollsters present the British public with the three options on offer—a no-deal Brexit, a Brexit on May’sterms, or a decision to Remain—there is no clear majority for any of them.

“I cannot recall Britain falling so low,” Philip Stephens, a veteran political commentator for the Financial Times, wrote in Thursday’s paper. “The Suez debacle in 1956? As supplicant at the door of the IMF 20 years later? These were moments of national shame. They were moments also that passed. The impact of Brexit has been cumulative. Each chapter in the story heaps on more humiliation. However it ends, the damage will not be quickly undone.”

And who, ultimately, is to blame? Before the vote on Wednesday, a BBC News crew approached David Cameron, the former Conservative Prime Minister who decided to hold the 2016 Brexit referendum, near his home in West London. He said that he didn’t regret that decision, even though the result went against his wishes. (He was a Remainer.) Then he set off on his morning jog.

A previous version of this post misstated the day that the vote on Theresa May’s Brexit plan took place.

https://www.newyorker.com/news

The Guardian view on May’s Brexit deal: it’s over, but what’s next? –Editorial


January 16, 2019

The Guardian view on May’s Brexit deal: it’s over, but what’s next?

https:// http://www.the guardian.com

The PM leads a party that is divided and a country stockpiling food and medicines as if preparing for war. She needs to humbly reach out to her opponents and find a way to prevent Britain crashing out of the EU in weeks.

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Theresa May addresses parliament after the vote on her Brexit deal. Photograph:  Mark Duffy/AP

The overwhelming and decisive rejection by MPs of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement to leave the European Union is a shattering blow to the authority of the prime minister. She has spent two years negotiating a deal, which in substance was the opposite of what she said she wanted in public, only to see it repudiated by parliament. Her minority government has now been defeated on no fewer than 28 occasions

 Britain is leaving the EU in weeks and Mrs May leads a cabinet that is hopelessly split, a party that is riven with disagreements and a country that is deeply divided. So emphatic is the Commons historic rebuff that Mrs May’s deal is finished. Mrs May lost by 230 votes – the greatest defeat of a government ever. The scale of the opposition means it is not credible Mrs May could bring the motion back to the Commons, modified with a few tweaks from Brussels, and hope for success a second time round.

We do not have to settle for the Hobson’s choice of the May deal or no deal. The trouble is the Tory party is split between those who want a deal and those who do not. Mrs May has intensified the divisions within her party, rather than resolve them. She chose to start negotiations over Brexit not with the EU but with her own hardliners.

The red lines Mrs May subsequently set made it impossible for her to get a deal that would bring her fractious party together, let alone reach out to her political opponents. Her agreement ended up shaped by Mrs May’s obsession with immigration and placating Brexit extremists. The result is a “blindfold Brexit” –where almost everything about the future relationship with Europe is up in the air for two more years. It required a leap of faith to place trust in a prime minister who, the Commons wisely decided, deserved very little.

In the current circumstances, there is no majority in parliament for any of the alternative Brexit deals. This could lead to a disaster: Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal. That is why MPs must remove it as an option.

Labour has triggered a vote of no confidence in the government but is unlikely to win. That points to the need for a mechanism to allow a Commons majority to take control of the Brexit process. This would require innovation, of the kind seen last week, so committees can be empowered and laws brought forward. But to have other options would require asking the EU for more time. It requires parliamentary cooperation of the kind hitherto unseen.

Jeremy Corbyn and Mrs May ought not to stand in the way of such dealings. Constitutional devices such as citizens’ assemblies, raised by Labour MP Lisa Nandy, and another referendum would allow leaders to hold their parties together and provide legitimacy for whatever the public decides. These are not denials of democracy but a reinforcement of it.

Mrs May’s decision to put party politics ahead of national interest means this country will aimlessly drift as the government attempts to recast a withdrawal agreement. An absence of leadership can lead to a sense of panic, one inflated by a government stockpiling food and medicines as if preparing for a war.

We need to end the chaos and division that have done so much to disfigure our country. The question we face is whether there can be a durable relationship between Brexit Britain and the EU, which allows both to cooperate on the basis of shared interests and values. Mrs May left it far too late to accept the costs of leaving, preferring to pander to MPs whose snake-oil sales pitch is that there will not be any cost associated with Brexit at all. “Having your cake and eating it” is the Brexiter attitude that encapsulates this inability to think in terms of costs and benefits.

Yet coming clean about these things is necessary to move forward. The country now faces a situation without precedent in its constitutional history: how to reconcile the sovereignty of the people with the sovereignty of parliament.

The prime minister has been humbled into admitting she needs to win her opponents over. The Brexit vote was driven by stagnant wages, regional disparities and a soulless form of capital accumulation. These were not caused by the EU, nor will they be solved by leaving it. Only policies enacted by purposeful government can do that. Mrs May has not provided either.

 

BreXit–GOD Save May


January 17,2019

BreXit–GOD Save May

LONDON — Ahead of a vote on her Brexit plan that could go down to a humiliating defeat in Parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain was fighting on Monday less to avert the loss than to limit its scale.

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In that vein, Mrs. May enlisted fresh promises from Europe’s most senior officials through an exchange of letters and warned supporters of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union that the whole project would be threatened if her deal was voted down as expected.

Neither tactic looked likely to change the overall outcome, but if Mrs. May can curb the magnitude of any defeat to manageable proportions, she could avert an immediate political meltdown. That, given the precarious state of events, would be a victory of sorts.

Speaking in a ceramics factory in Stoke-on-Trent, an area that voted heavily to leave the European Union, Mrs. May warned that Britain’s failure to withdraw from the bloc would risk “a subversion of the democratic process” and do “catastrophic harm” to faith in politics.

Though she carefully refused to rule it out, Mrs. May insisted that she has no intention of seeking to extend the negotiating deadline of March 29 laid down under Article 50 of the European Union’s treaty.

Even in defeat, Mrs. May wants to show that, in a Parliament paralyzed over Brexit, her plan still has more support than likely alternatives, like negotiating closer ties to the European Union, rethinking Brexit altogether through a second referendum or leaving without any deal at all.

The stakes are high because a crushing defeat in the vote on Tuesday could destroy Mrs. May’s strategy of keeping her plan alive in the hope that, as other options falter, lawmakers will support hers out of desperation.

A severe loss, meaning by more than 100 votes in Parliament, would reduce prospects of Britain’s winning further concessions from European Union officials. They are loath to give ground unless it seems like Mrs. May needs only a small push to get over the finish line. A loss of historic proportions might make her position untenable, forcing her resignation.

Lawmakers are preparing for a moment of parliamentary high drama on Tuesday. In one prominent example, Tulip Siddiq, a member of the opposition Labour Party, told the Evening Standard newspaper that she had ignored medical advice and postponed her cesarean section by two days in order to vote in person.

The last time a government was defeated by more than 100 votes is thought to have been in October 1924, when, academics say, a minority government led by James Ramsay MacDonald went down to a defeat of 166 over its abandonment of the prosecution of a left-wing newspaper, prompting a general election.

Mrs. May faces a rebellion from many of her own lawmakers who are angry about the so-called “backstop” plan to keep the Irish border open for the free flow of goods after Britain leaves the bloc. Brexiteers fear that this could keep Britain tied to the European Union indefinitely, while the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, which props up Mrs. May’s government, is petrified about its part of the country being separated economically from the rest of the United Kingdom.

In a letter published on Monday, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, emphasized that they did not want the backstop to come into force and hoped it could be averted by agreement on a trade deal that removes the need for border checks.

If it did become operable, the European Union would use “its best endeavors” to negotiate an agreement to replace it, “so that the backstop would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary.”

That did little to placate Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the D.U.P., who wrote on Twitter that “rather than reassure us, the Tusk and Juncker letter bolsters our concerns.”

Mrs. May seems to have calculated that, for the time being, her best hope is to cajole some hard-line Conservative Party Brexiteers into supporting her, even if they hate her plan, for fear of something worse. Her hand has been strengthened by machinations in Parliament in recent days, as lawmakers have tried to wrest control of the Brexit process, to inconclusive results, from a government that has no clear majority.

That wrangling has raised the possibility of a much “softer” Brexit, with closer ties to the European Union than Mrs. May wants, or a second referendum that might stop Brexit completely.

Mrs. May has also been trying to persuade lawmakers to side with her for fear of the disorderly Brexit that might arise on March 29 if, by then, there is not agreement. Prospects of that outcome have lessened lately because of the assertiveness of Parliament where a clear majority of lawmakers is determined to avoid a “no-deal” Brexit.

There was some bad news on Monday for Mrs. May with the resignation from her government of Gareth Johnson, an assistant whip, so that he would be free to vote against her Brexit plan.

But there was some movement in the other direction, too. One opposition Labour lawmaker, Kevin Barron, who represents a constituency that voted heavily for Leave, told The Times of London that his reservations over the plan were “far outweighed” by the risk of no deal, and that any attempt to reverse Brexit would be a “betrayal.”

A small group of Conservative Brexit supporters, including Andrew Murrison, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Caroline Johnson and Edward Leigh, are also now expected to support Mrs. May. They are hardly the most enthusiastic cheerleaders, however.

Mr. Clifton-Brown told the BBC that he believed Mrs. May was headed for defeat but was “fearful that a coalition in the House of Commons will somehow find a way of either extending Article 50 or, worse still, preventing us leaving altogether.”

Asked about the merits of Mrs. May’s plan, he replied, “Well, basically I still think it’s a thoroughly bad deal.”

Follow Stephen Castle on Twitter: @_StephenCastle.

 

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: May Scrambles to Save Her Accord to Exit E.U. From Crushing Defeat. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper |

 

 

 

 

The Euro turns 20


January 13, 2019

The Euro turns 20

The euro’s first 20 years played out very differently than many expected, highlighting the importance of recognizing that the future is likely to be different from the past. Given this, only a commitment to flexibility and a willingness to rise to new challenges will ensure the common currency’s continued success.

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https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/four-lessons-from-euro-s-first-20-years-by-daniel-gros-2019-01

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BRUSSELS – Twenty years ago this month, the euro was born. For ordinary citizens, little changed until cash euros were introduced in 2002. But in January 1999, the “third stage” of Economic and Monetary Union officially started, with the exchange rates among the original 11 eurozone member states “irrevocably” fixed, and authority over their monetary policy transferred to the new European Central Bank. What has unfolded since then holds important lessons for the future.

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In 1999, conventional wisdom held that Germany would incur the biggest losses from the euro’s introduction. Beyond the risk that the ECB would not be as tough on inflation as the Bundesbank had been, the Deutsche Mark was overvalued, with Germany running a current-account deficit. Fixing the exchange rate at that level, it was believed, would pose a severe challenge to the competitiveness of German industry.

Yet, 20 years on, inflation is even lower than it was when the Bundesbank was in charge, and Germany maintains persistently large current-account surpluses, which are viewed as evidence that German industry is too competitive. This brings us to the first lesson of the last 20 years: the performance of individual eurozone countries is not preordained.

The experiences of other countries, such as Spain and Ireland, reinforce that lesson, demonstrating that the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and a willingness to make painful choices matter more than the economy’s starting position. This applies to the future as well: Germany’s current predominance, for example, is in no way guaranteed to continue for the next 20 years.

Yet the establishment of the eurozone was backward-looking. The main concern during the 1970s and 1980s had been high and variable inflation, often driven by double-digit wage growth. Financial crises were almost always linked to bouts of inflation, but had previously been limited in scope, because financial markets were smaller and not deeply interconnected.

With the creation of the eurozone, everything changed. Wage pressures abated throughout the developed world. But financial-market activity, especially across borders within the euro area, grew exponentially, after having been repressed for decades. For example, eurozone member countries’ cross-border assets, mostly in the form of bank and other credit, grew from about 100% of GDP in the late 1990s to 400% by 2008.

Then the global financial crisis erupted a decade ago, catching Europe off guard. The first deflationary crisis since the 1930s was made especially virulent in Europe by the mountain of debt that had been accumulated in the previous ten years, when countries had their eyes on the rear-view mirror.

Of course, the eurozone was not alone in being taken by surprise by the financial crisis, which had started in the United States with supposedly safe securities based on subprime mortgages. But the US, with its unified financial (and political) system, was able to overcome the crisis relatively quickly, whereas in the eurozone, a slow-motion cascade of crises befell many member states.

Fortunately, the ECB proved robust. Its leadership recognized the need to shift focus from fighting inflation – the objective the ECB was designed to achieve – to curbing deflation. Ultimately, the euro survived, because, when push came to shove, leaders of the eurozone’s member states expended political capital to implement needed reforms – even after blaming the euro for their countries’ problems.

This pattern of demonizing the euro before recognizing the need to protect it continues to unfold today – and it should serve as a second lesson of the last 20 years. Italy’s populist coalition government used to speak bravely about flouting the euro’s rules, with some advocating an exit from the eurozone altogether. But when financial-market risk premia increased, and Italian savers did not buy their own government’s bonds, the coalition quickly changed its tune.

In fact, the eurozone’s economic performance has not been as bad as the seemingly endless stream of bleak headlines implies. Per capita GDP growth has slowed over the last 20 years, but not more so than in the US or other developed economies.

Moreover, continental European labor markets have undergone an under-reported structural improvement, with the labor-force participation rate increasing every year, even during the crisis. Today, a higher proportion of the adult population is economically active in the eurozone than in the US. Employment has reached record highs, and unemployment, though still high in some southern countries, is continuously declining.

These economic realities imply that, even if the euro is not particularly well loved, it is widely recognized as an integral element of European integration. According to the latest Eurobarometer poll, support for the euro is at an all-time high of 74%, while less than 20% of the eurozone’s population opposes it. Even Italy boasts a strong pro-euro majority (68% versus 18%). Herein lies a third key lesson from the euro’s first two decades: despite its many imperfections, the common currency has delivered jobs, and there is little support for abandoning it.

But probably the most important lesson lies elsewhere. The euro’s first 20 years played out very differently than many expected, highlighting the importance of recognizing that the future is likely to be different from the past. Given this, only a commitment to flexibility and a willingness to rise to new challenges will ensure the common currency’s continued success.

 

Daniel Gros

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Daniel Gros is Director of the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies. He has worked for the International Monetary Fund, and served as an economic adviser to the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the French prime minister and finance minister. He is the editor of Economie Internationale and International Finance.

 

The Sum of All Brexit Fears


December 29, 2018

The Sum of All Brexit Fears

The Leavers lied: The costs of withdrawing from the European Union were always destined to outweigh the benefits. Alas, the responsible, imaginative, and inclusive political leadership needed to minimize the damage is nowhere in sight.

 

LONDON – Day after day, week after week, most British citizens think that the turmoil over their country’s proposed exit from the European Union cannot get any worse. But, without fail, it does. Turmoil turns into humiliating chaos; a political crisis threatens to become a constitutional crisis.

Meanwhile, the date of the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU gets closer. It is fewer than 100 days until the UK leaves, and at the moment there is no deal in sight that is acceptable to both Parliament in Westminster and the European Commission and European Council in Brussels.

The problem began with the 2016 referendum vote to leave. Unfortunately, despite plotting and planning for this outcome for years, Leavers had no idea what quitting the EU would actually entail. Their campaign was rife with delusions and dishonesty. Leaving, they said, would mean a financial bonanza, which the UK would inject into its National Health Service. Negotiating a trade deal with the EU after departure would be easy. Other countries around the world would queue up to make deals with Britain. All lies.

The Brexit talks themselves, when they finally began, were hampered by the incompetence of the ministers put in charge. The UK’s negotiators were long on ideological certainty and short on workable solutions.

Moreover, the red lines that Prime Minister Theresa May laid down at the very beginning made their work more difficult. We must not only leave the EU, she argued, but also the single market and the customs union. We could not accept any jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice. We must be able to end the freedom of European citizens to come to the UK to staff our hospitals, pick our crops, fill gaps in our professional services, and increase our prosperity.

One of the central problems to emerge from this mish-mash of nonsense was how to avoid re-establishing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if the UK stayed within May’s red lines. Such a border would (as the head of Northern Ireland police noted) jeopardize the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after three decades of violence.

Recent negotiations have stalled on this point, because a successful outcome must square a circle. Britain has already accepted that Northern Ireland will have to stay in the customs union until the UK has concluded a long-term trade deal with the EU. Until then, there will have to be an insurance policy – a “backstop” – against possible failure. But hard-liners within May’s Conservative Party, and Democratic Unionist MPs from Northern Ireland, on whom May depends for her parliamentary majority, will accept only a backstop with a time limit, which is no real “stop” at all.

At the root of May’s difficulties is a simple truth that she and others are unwilling to accept. It is well-nigh impossible to negotiate an exit deal that is both in the national interest and acceptable to the right-wing English nationalists in her party. This became crystal clear during a grim week for the government earlier this month.

After May and her advisers concluded that the exit deal she had negotiated with the EU would be defeated in Parliament by a large majority, they suspended the debate before voting took place. May then announced that she was going to talk to other EU presidents and prime ministers to get the sort of reassurances that might satisfy her right-wing critics.

Those critics have operated increasingly like a party within a party. Halfway through May’s frantic diplomatic safari, they announced that they had gathered enough support to trigger a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party. She won the vote with about two-thirds support, but with her authority badly dented.

Capping an awful week, European ministers made clear that they were not prepared to reopen the agreement with Britain to renegotiation. They could offer “best endeavours” and “good will,” but no more.

So what happens next? May’s supporters think she is determined; others reckon she is simply obstinate and blind to reason. She has continued to put off any debate on her own proposals. Critics say she is trying to push any vote as close to the exit date as possible, in order to pressure MPs to support her plan. “Back my plan or face the disaster of no deal,” she seems to be saying. “Support me or we’ll jump off the cliff.”

But pressure is building for Parliament to take control of the process and work through a more acceptable range of options. Is there a majority in favor of May’s deal? Is Parliament totally opposed to crashing out of Europe with no deal? Should we seek a Norway-style relationship with Europe and aim to stay in both the single market and the customs union, at the cost of continuing to accept free movement of workers? Should we try to postpone the date of our EU departure until we have sorted out what exactly we want? Should there be another referendum, passing the final decision back to the people?

A fog of political uncertainty hangs over Britain after Christmas. Only four things seem clear. First, the Conservative Party will have growing difficulty accommodating its fanatical English nationalist wing. Second, to save the UK from disaster, Parliament will have to get a grip on the process. Third, life outside the EU will, in any case, leave Britain poorer and less influential in the world. And, lastly, whatever the outcome, Brexit will be a divisive issue for years to come.

The Brexiteers lied. The costs of leaving the EU were always destined to outweigh the benefits. Alas, the responsible, imaginative, and inclusive political leadership needed to minimize the damage is nowhere in sight.

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner for external affairs, is Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

May’s BreXit Christmas


December 25, 2018

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May’s BreXit Christmas

by

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/exit-from-brexit-referendum-by-jacek-rostowski-2018-12

After invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon prematurely, British Prime Minister Theresa May has spent the past 21 months dancing around the impossibility of a quick withdrawal from the European Union. But with the House of Commons set to reject the exit deal she negotiated with EU leaders, the music is about to stop.

 

LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to withdraw her country from the European Union in an orderly fashion is collapsing. Though she has survived a no-confidence vote, in January the House of Commons will almost certainly reject the exit deal she negotiated with EU leaders. In order to avoid a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit, her government will have to ask the EU for an extension on the departure date, or withdraw its “intention to leave” notification, at least temporarily.

Either way, the next step would be to hold a second referendum with the option of a so-called exit from Brexit, which would reverse the 2016 decision to leave. Voters could still decide to back May’s deal, opt for a “Norway-style” arrangement, or crash out of the EU with no deal. But recent polling suggests that the choice of remaining in the EU would win the day.

How did a country with 400 years of constitutional governance and a culture of political compromise end up here?

Most commentators point to the seemingly insoluble problem of the . Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which put an end to decades of violent hostility between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, Britain agreed to permit the free movement of persons, goods, and some services across the border with the Republic of Ireland. A binding international treaty with no provision for exit, the Good Friday Agreement was signed under the assumption that both Britain and Ireland would remain in the EU indefinitely.

May’s deal with the EU includes a “backstop” that would prevent the reintroduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in the absence of a formal post-Brexit trade deal. The problem is that well over 100 members of May’s own party have rejected the backstop outright and will vote against her deal for that reason alone, making it dead on arrival.

But the Irish backstop is, in fact, a side issue. Even if there were no Irish problem, an orderly Brexit would have been impossible within the two years allotted to the UK under Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. As I pointed out in October, British manufacturing supply chains are so deeply integrated with those of continental Europe that they could not survive the sudden establishment of customs and other checks on the British border. Britain’s automotive, aerospace, and precision-instruments industries would be decimated.

To be sure, many non-European countries export large volumes of industrial goods to the EU. But, unlike British goods, these generally cross the EU border only once. The same would hold true for Britain’s goods only aftert he country disentangles itself from the web of European supply chains. That task alone would be comparable to the restructuring of post-communist countries following the collapse of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon, the Soviet-era trade bloc). Completing it could well take five or more years.

After the 2016 referendum, May’s government should have had an adult discussion about the shape Brexit would take, rather than simply declaring, “Brexit means Brexit.” Scenarios in which the UK could remain in the single market, the customs union, or both were on offer from the EU. The government also should have done far more to apprise the business community of its plans.

Moreover, if the intention was always to leave both the single market and the customs union, retaining only a free-trade agreement with Europe, the government should have made clear that it would need an “implementation period” of at least five years to do this in an orderly manner. During this time it would be bound by European laws – including its obligation to pay around £13 billion ($16.4 billion) per year to the EU budget. May should not have invoked Article 50 until all of these decisions had been made, communicated to the relevant parties, and agreed upon at least in principle.

One reason May’s government ended up taking the exact opposite approach is that neither senior politicians nor bureaucrats understood the degree to which the British economy is intertwined with Europe. The fact that a quick Brexit into a free-trade agreement is logistically impossible seems to have been totally lost on them.

But the bigger problem was that a balanced consideration of possible options would have laid bare the lie upon which the “Leave” campaign was based. The idea that Britain could secure a “bespoke deal” and maintain “frictionless” access to the single market while pursuing its own trade accords elsewhere was always a fantasy.

Fearing the political consequences of acknowledging this basic truth, May adopted a completely unrealistic negotiating strategy, hoping that “some kind of Brexit” would happen before the British public realized it had been duped. Today, just three months before the departure date, this deeply deceitful démarche has disintegrated before May’s eyes – as well it should.

Jacek Rostowski was Poland’s Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister from 2007 to 2013.