British Solons In Tight Spot On Brexit

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

“Depend upon it, sir,” said Samuel Johnson, “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” With Brexit 81 days away and counting, we begin to wonder at the focus of British politicians. How concentrated is the mind of Prime Minister Theresa May? And what of her adversaries?

We’ll know soon enough. Parliament is scheduled to take up Brexit when it meets on Monday. Center stage will be the Withdrawal Bill setting out the terms of Britain’s departure from the European Union. Again. That same bill that Mrs. May punted to the new year when she delayed a December vote in the House of Commons.

That tactic led Conservative colleagues to hold a confidence vote on her leadership — a vote Mrs. May ultimately won. But while her tenure as Tory head is assured, her premiership definitely less so. Mrs. May retains the keys to No. 10 due only to the lack of a credible alternative. (Boris Johnson, whose bravura we admire, enjoys strong support with the grassroots but little on the Government benches.)

With March 29 as “Brexit Day,” the Prime Minister has a fortnight from Parliament’s return to get her Bill passed, to initiate a series of meetings preceding “secession.” So room for maneuver is virtually non-existent past that date — barring a “Hail Mary” pass in UK-EU backrooms for an extended deadline.

Just don’t hold your breath. Hopes for further concessions from Brussels regarding the Bill — principally removing the so-called “Irish backstop” from the deal as a source of friction between the borders of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and the open-ended customs arrangement that underpins it — came to nought over Christmas.

Even if the backstop issue disappears, there is much in the Bill that dismays Brexiteers. Top of mind is Britain’s ability going forward to craft its own trade agreements with other countries, unhampered from “understandings” undertaken with EU mandarins to ease the divorce proceedings. American officials point out that the likelihood of a deal with America remains uncertain.

Word at Westminster is that Mrs. May’s successfully getting her Bill through Parliament is at best a 50-50 proposition. With the Irish Unionist MPs propping up her minority government signalling their continued disapproval, she is beating the bushes for support, even approaching Laborites to vote in favor of her Brexit plan.

Disarray within the Labor opposition alone gives this idea any legs. Backbenchers are chafing under leader Jeremy Corbyn’s tactics, and allegations of anti-Semitism (and unsavory bed-fellows) mean that Labor is no more solidly behind Mr. Corbyn than the Tories under Mrs. May. Small comfort, that.

Prospects of a second referendum, too, have run up against the clock, fortunately. Britons were told in 2016 to make their vote count in the one-off referendum. Now, the ruse is return to the ballot box for a “People’s Vote.” Standard ploy according to the EU playbook, when votes were lost in France, Ireland, and Denmark.

A “no deal” Brexit appears to be the default alternative — save for “no Brexit,” but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Were Britain to leave without an agreement, trade would revert to World Trade Organization rules setting out a framework for tariffs and regulatory guidelines. London has already announced that EU nationals currently living and working in the UK will not be unfairly penalized, a signal for reciprocal action from Brussels for Britons resident in Europe.

Meanwhile, with the £39 billion “EU settlement” cheque remaining uncashed at the British Treasury, funds are available to devise border and customs mechanisms, plus cushioning for the short-term downturn in continental trade as Britain seeks out new overseas markets — principally America.

Brexiteers should therefore not throw up their hands yet. Samuel Johnson’s condemned man was just that, “condemned.” From the beginning, when the victorious referendum was dubbed Britain’s “Independence Day,” the Brexit promise was founded on the dream of sovereignty and independence, regained.

“Despair is the conclusion of fools,” Disraeli warned. EU aficionados, deaf to Britons’ yearning for self-determination and self-government, deride the Brexit enterprise as foolish and illogical. By despairing with the prize within their grasp, do Brexiteers want to prove their naysayers right?


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