Since the beginning of 2019 the British Parliament has begun to vote with great frequency on Brexit, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. The Parliament has rejected three times the agreement found by the government of Theresa May and the European Union, voted against alternative proposals of Brexit, has not accepted to hold a second referendum or to support the withdrawal of Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon (the one that triggered Brexit), rejected the “no deal”, the exit without agreement, and expressed against any early elections.
Meanwhile the government has changed – May has been replaced by Boris Johnson – and the Brexit deadline has been postponed twice. In all this there has always been a constant: the inability of the British Parliament to agree on anything.
There are several reasons that explain the stalemate that has developed in the British Parliament in recent months, starting with the first rejection of the agreement between May and the European Union, in January. For example, we have repeatedly talked about the problem of not having a written Constitution, which leaves ample room for British institutional actors to interpret and force constitutional rules in order to achieve political objectives (as in the case of the suspension of the Parliament decided by Johnson).
The most important reason, however, is the extreme division on Brexit, even within the two main British parties.
In the Conservative Party, for example, three great positions emerged, very distant from each other: there are supporters of a “hard Brexit”, that is the abandonment of the United Kingdom of all the institutions and all the treaties of the European Union ( and within this group there are those who support the “no deal”, the most Eurosceptics); there are supporters of a “soft Brexit”, that is the option that provides for the exit from European institutions but the permanence to some extent within the “single market” (at a certain point the European Union offered the “solution” Norwegian “to the British government, which however refused arguing that if the country had remained in the single market it would have been a mockery for the referendum); and then there are the supporters of the agreement between May and the European Union,
Things did not go much better in the Labour Party. In recent months, those in favour of remaining in the European Union have clashed, belonging above all to the more moderate wing of the party and promoter of a second referendum; and Brexit’s favourable Eurosceptics, who would like to continue to be part of the customs union and have close ties to the single market without being part of it, and who are the most loyal to the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
The divisions within the parties, combined with the fact that the choice of Brexit is considered by the United Kingdom to be the most important and decisive for the country in recent decades, have caused the current stalemate in Parliament.
So far parliamentarians of the various parties have moved more to defend their seats and the will of the voters in their respective colleges than to try to find an agreement on Brexit. The only two major majorities that emerged in the Parliament from January to today concerned both the opposition to something: opposition to the ” backstop“, The mechanism included in the agreement between May and the European Union to avoid the creation of a rigid border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and opposition to the” no deal “, the exit without agreement. The path that has so far received the most support has been that of a negotiated “soft Brexit”, which, however, can mean many different things. This means that the British Parliament has said no to the May agreement, and has said no to the “no agreement” option, but in the middle has not been able to express itself by majority vote on any viable alternative.
Another thing that Parliament seems to agree on, even though the proposal did not get the required majority of two-thirds of parliamentarians on Wednesday, is to go to early elections.
The British government has proposed October 15, but the opposition has refused fearing that in the electoral campaign Johnson can decide to move the vote beyond October 31, date of Brexit, leaving the “no deal” to happen. In Wednesday evening’s vote on early elections the Labor Party abstained and Jeremy Corbyn said his party will support the government’s proposal but only after the law that prevents the “no deal” – approved yesterday by the House of Commons – will have ended its process and will be signed by the Queen, presumably by the end of the week. Even on this point, however, there are disagreements: several Labor MPs would like to postpone the elections until after October 31, to know what will become of Brexit.
Then there is one last thing to consider. The British Parliament not only failed to agree in the last eight months on a solution on Brexit, but seems to have progressively forgotten that the solution on Brexit can be found in two: the United Kingdom on one side and the European Union on the other. Repeatedly opposing the “backstop” mechanism without proposing anything alternative leaves the time that it finds, since preventing the creation of a rigid border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – the primary objective of the “backstop” – is a non-negotiable point for the European Union. Voting a law to prevent the “no deal” – which in practice means forcing the Johnson government to ask the European Union to postpone the Brexit date again – does not in any way ensure exit without agreement,
This Parliament therefore does not seem able to come to grips with Brexit. The month of September could already be fundamental to understand what will happen: next week, if the law was approved in the meantime to prevent the “no deal”, the Parliament could vote in favor of early elections, which could already be held in October. To have some certainty about Brexit it will probably be necessary to wait until October 17, when the European Council will meet, an organ that brings together all the heads of state and government of the European Union, which could decide whether or not to grant the extension on Brexit wanted by the Kingdom Kingdom.