Talks between British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government and Labour to find a compromise Brexit deal broke down Friday without an agreement, following five weeks of discussions to find a way out of the impasse.
While Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the discussions had “gone as far as they can” and blamed the government’s “increasing weakness and instability”, May said the lack of a “common position” within Labour over a further referendum made progress “difficult”.
Britain, which was supposed to leave the European Union on March 29 based on a 2016 referendum, failed to arrive at a consensus among its lawmakers regarding the terms of the withdrawal. The EU grudgingly extended the deadline to October 31.
What if there’s no light at the end of this tunnel?
If internal conflict in UK parliament prevails five months hence, no-deal Brexit could be a reality.
If no Brexit deal is agreed by then, the UK will have to choose between either leaving with no deal, revoking Article 50, or begging the EU for another extension.
Both sides, keen to avoid it, will try to pass an acceptable Withdrawal Agreement Bill in a floor vote next month.
But Labour has made certain demands that the government must comply with for the process to move forward, including changes to government’s Brexit deal or an election. In case neither is possible, it will support the option of another public vote on Brexit.
May, whose premiership is over, said she would consider putting options to MPs on Brexit that may “command a majority”, which many critics have described as a ploy to buy more time.
This means May might hold a series of indicative votes in parliament to test whether any of the various Brexit options—from a second referendum to her original deal to Corbyn’s proposed customs union deal to leaving with no deal—has a majority.
Labour’s preferred plan
Labour’s Brexit demands include a permanent customs union with the EU, meaning no internal tariffs (taxes) on goods sold between the UK and the rest of the bloc. It is also keen on keeping the option of a further referendum on the table, to give the public a say on the deal finalised by parliament.
On Saturday, Labour MP and shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer reiterated that the government should add a public vote to the Brexit legislation, which MPs will vote on next month (in the week beginning June 3).
Labour now backs calls for giving the public another say on Brexit, including the choice between accepting whatever deal the government agrees, or remaining in the EU. This forms the crux of the entire debate over a confirmatory vote.
None of these scenarios find enough favour among pro-Brexit hardliners, who argue that a customs union would prevent the UK from negotiating its own international trade deals after leaving the EU, and who claim that a second referendum is undemocratic.
Others argue a second referendum should include the option of leaving the EU without a deal.
What led to this
Brexit had been due to take place on March 29, but after MPs voted down May’s deal, she went back to negotiate with the European bloc three times, mainly over the Northern Ireland backstop.
Ever since MPs tanked the same deal again by a margin of 58 votes in the week leading up to March 29, British lawmakers were faced with the singular task of formulating an acceptable Brexit policy or delay it further.
Despite parliamentary debates and discussions, Conservatives and Labour now stand torn over differences on some issues, including membership of a customs union and a second referendum.
Sir Keir on Saturday said the PM was “trying to blame everyone but herself for the collapse of cross-party talks”.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay responded that the government had moved in some areas—specifically on workers’ rights and environmental standards—and had been “having discussions around where we were on customs arrangements”.
According to Sir Keir, a decisive move must be made without further delay, reminding his fellow Commoners that five and a half months does not leave a lot of time for impasses.
Succession in the time of Brexit
It has been almost three years since the UK voted to leave the European Union, but by law it must take part in elections for the European parliament as long as it remains a member. The European parliamentary elections in the UK are scheduled for next week.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson became the latest MP to put his name forward as a possible successor to May.
According to several YouGov polls, Johnson is considered favourite among conservatives to succeed May, followed by ex-Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
The Tory party will want to hold the leadership contest as soon as possible and have a new prime minister in place by July.
Hancock told The Daily Telegraph that May’s successor as prime minister should not call a general election until Brexit is completed. According to him, an early election posed the risk of losing to Labour and “killing Brexit altogether”.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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